After making the unprecedented decision to release its entire 2021 film slate on HBO Max alongside traditional theatrical showings, Warner Bros. released the first of those films on Jan. 29. And for the people who have already watched that film, The Little Things, some could use the ending explained.
What is the ‘The Little Things’ about?
In the 1990s-set neo-noir thriller — written and directed John Lee Hancock — Denzel Washington plays Joe “Deke” Deacon, a Kern County, Calif., deputy sheriff who gets himself involved in a serial killer case in Los Angeles, where he used to be a detective. Deke, haunted by a similar case from his past, unofficially teams up with Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detective Jimmy Baxter (played by Rami Malek) to crack the case.
Deke and Baxter close in on an appliance repairman named Albert Sparma (played by Jared Leto), who fits the profile and knows all about the spate of murders, saying he’s a true crime buff. Sparma taunts the two investigators and raises their suspicions, but Baxter’s boss warns Baxter that Sparma falsely confessed to a murder in the past.
Who was the killer in ‘The Little Things’?
For much of the movie, it seems like Sparma is the killer behind the slayings. Sparma even drives Baxter out to the desert to show Baxter where he buried the latest suspected victim, a woman named Ronda Rathbun. As Baxter digs hole after hole in the desert soil, Sparma claims to have never killed a soul. But Sparma mocks Baxter one time too many, and Baxter lashes out and strikes Sparma with the shovel, killing him instantly.
Deke, who had trailed Sparma’s car, arrives at the scene and helps Baxter bury Sparma’s body before heading back to destroy the evidence at Sparma’s apartment. In a flashback, we learn that Deke accidentally shot and killed a kidnapping victim in that unsolved case from his past in Los Angeles, and he suffered a heart attack and a divorce in the wake of that trauma.
So when Baxter starts grasping at straws — hoping that the man he killed is the one who’s guilty of the murders — Deke urges Baxter to move on from the case before Baxter ends up like him.
Later, Deke heads back to Kern County, and he sends Baxter a red barrette matching the one Rathbun was wearing at the time of her disappearance, suggesting that Deke found the barrette in Sparma’s apartment and that Sparma was guilty. But then we see that Deke had purchased a set of barrettes, suggesting that Sparma may have been innocent after all and that Deke just wanted to give Baxter the closure he himself had never gotten.
Long movie short, we never learn who the serial killer is — and ironically enough, the only known killers in The Little Things are the two “good guys” of the movie.