This thriller suffers from somewhat jarring plot turns, some overcooked performances, and other flaws, but the sturdy, classical direction and Washington's anguished performance make it worth seeing. The Little Things is something of a departure for writer-director John Lee Hancock. In his clean, classical style, he usually makes bright, positive movies about ambition and achievement (Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder, etc.), but this one, which was originally written at the beginning of his career in the early 1990s, is more about obsession. It withholds information, rather than sharing. Perhaps for that reason -- or perhaps because it doesn't adequately establish its rules -- the movie's big reveal doesn't feel entirely smooth, and it's slightly unsatisfying.
Another drawback of a movie written in the early 1990s is that the female characters are underdeveloped. Plus, Oscar winners Malek and Leto are both guilty of slightly overcooked performances. Leto's eyes appear sunken in, to emphasize his creepiness, while Malek tends to mumble his dialogue, Marlon Brando-style (probably because he's been given mostly exposition). But Washington is excellent, carrying a heavy burden and using every inch of his frame to show the weight and pain of it. And Hancock's direction is as skillful as ever. While his movies are usually full of bright daylight, The Little Things makes fine, mysterious use of darkness (and peering through it with flashlights or ultraviolet light), for an effectively shadowy mood.