Director John Lee Hancock Weighs In on ‘The Little Things’ Killer

Director John Lee Hancock Weighs In on ‘The Little Things’ Killer


The Big Picture

  • The Little Things
    is climbing up Netflix charts thanks to Leto’s performance, the gripping conclusion, and ambiguous unanswered questions.
  • Director John Lee Hancock intentionally leaves the film’s ending ambiguous to subvert traditional crime thriller expectations.
  • Leto made a decision about Sparma’s guilt to inform his performance, but even Hancock doesn’t know the answer.

Warner Bros. crime thriller The Little Things is currently making it way up the Netflix top charts. The buzz surrounds Jared Leto‘s Golden Globes-nominated portrayal, the gripping conclusion, and the mystery behind the true culprit. Luckily, the film’s writer/director John Lee Hancock has weighed in on the most pressing of questions: Did Jared Leto’s character do it? To recap, The Little Things finds a former homicide detective named Deke, played by Denzel Washington, assisting the current Los Angeles homicide detective Jim Baxter (played by Rami Malek) in an investigation into a string of murders. The killings feel similar to a case from Deke’s past, and their prime suspect is an incredibly creepy dude named Albert Sparma, played with snaggle-tooth charm and swagger by Leto.

Throughout the film, both Deke and Baxter are unable to find any hard evidence against Sparma, but he certainly feels like the guy. So, on a stakeout one night, Sparma tells Baxter he’ll drive him to the location of a missing girl. Once they get to this spot, out in the middle of nowhere, Sparma tells Baxter to start digging. They find nothing, and Sparma says, “Oh maybe it was over there.” Again and again it goes on, as it’s clear Sparma is messing with Baxter, until Baxter spins around and smacks Sparma in the head with a shovel, killing him instantly.

The Little Things

Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe Deacon is sent to Los Angeles for what should have been a quick evidence-gathering assignment. Instead, he becomes embroiled in the search for a serial killer who is terrorizing the city.

Release Date
January 28, 2021

John Lee Hancock


John Lee Hancock

Some things never let us go.

The Ending of ‘The Little Things’ Is Ambiguous

Deke shows up, helps Baxter cover up the crime — as we, the audience, are then told Deke also accidentally murdered someone years earlier and also covered it up — and the film ends with the two men convincing themselves Sparma was the killer. They did the right thing. Except the film never confirms Sparma was the killer, so we’re left with this ambiguity over whether Baxter killed an innocent creep or a cold-blooded killer, and the unsettling knowledge that these two cops have now covered up two murders.

Hancock tells EW he came up with this ending when he originally wrote the script back in 1993, as he wanted to subvert the audience’s expectations for crime thrillers at that point:

“I always liked crime dramas and psychological thrillers, but I felt a lot of movies in that genre at the time just weren’t fulfilling to me. The first two acts were interesting and full of misdirects and clues and it was an interactive experience with the audience. Then, by the time you’d get to the third act, you’d identified the bad guy, and then the good guy and the bad guy would go face-off, and then there would be a moment when the good guy was going to lose, but then the good guy wins heroically. I always thought that was less interesting than the first two acts. I wanted to embrace the genre and the world while trying to subvert it and come up with an ending that was less formulaic but hopefully just as satisfying and interesting. I always felt there would be a section of the audience that would prefer a very formulaic ending and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to try and do something that was different because that was what I was interested in and I thought hopefully people will realize that you’re not just making another one of these crime dramas.”

So, is Sparma guilty? Hancock says he never made a decision one way or another, and made sure to sprinkle in enough evidence to support either theory:

“Honestly, when I wrote it, I just tried to build in as many things pointing to his guilt as points to his innocence. I think there is an equal number of each in the script. I can make an argument either way. I mean, he does say, ‘I’ve got to work tomorrow, come on let’s go,’ which is a hint that nothing’s going to happen out there. If he was taking him out there to go and find a body, then he certainly wouldn’t be going to work the next day. Or is he lying?”


The 10 Best Denzel Washington Movie Quotes, Ranked

King Kong ain’t got s**t on him.

Jared Leto Is the Only Person Who Truly Knows Sparma’s Innocence

For Leto, though, the actor needed to have something to grasp onto for his performance. So he told Hancock he was going to make a decision about Sparma’s guilt or innocence that would inform his performance — but even then Hancock didn’t want to know:

“He asked me, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘I don’t know and that’s not what the movie’s about.’ Either he was guilty and the crimes are going to stop or he’s not and the crimes might keep going on. So, it’s an ugly ending any way you look at it, it’s all about the grey. He said, ‘I think I have to come to a decision about this.’ I said, ‘I understand that completely, just don’t tell me.’ So he made a decision for himself and we were there to capture it.”

The ending certainly doesn’t let Deke and Baxter off the hook, as Deke goes to the trouble of sending Baxter a hair clip — like the one that belonged to the missing woman — to indicate it was amongst Sparma’s belongings. But the film shows that Deke bought the hair clip, and the look on Baxter’s face seems to indicate he knows that as well. They’ll live the rest of their lives lying to themselves, and knowing they’re lying to themselves, about the certainty of Sparma’s guilt. So what do you think? Is Sparma guilty? Do you think you can suss out what decision Leto made?

The Little Things is available to stream on Netflix in the U.S.

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