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There are times when it’s easy to lose patience with Denzel Washington for his steadfast dedication to being a movie star. Here is one of the best actors of his generation, a popular two-time Oscar winner with fine taste in theater classics and a willingness to complicate his megawatt charisma, who nonetheless frequently makes movies designed to play on some Turner-owned cable station or another in weekend-afternoon perpetuity.
Yet Washington, who has always appeared in pulp but has done so more often after 50, has stuck around in crime thrillers, vigilante thrillers, and serial-killer-chasing thrillers for so long that his junky one-for-them studio pictures can, under the right lighting, look like comfort. The Little Things, his new Warner Bros. movie premiering in theaters and HBO Max simultaneously, has the right lighting. Specifically, it’s lit in Diet David Fincher greens and streetlamps at night, a more richly moody look than anything I’ve seen before from writer-director John Lee Hancock. Hancock is taking a break from his usual Americana; rather than observing the men who caught Bonnie and Clyde or the unctuous franchising of McDonald’s or the white-knuckle production of Mary Poppins, he’s simply on the trail of Denzel Washington, on the trail of a serial killer, throwing back only so far as 1990. Canny, setting a cops-versus-killer narrative at the dawn of that narrative’s big-studio heyday.