The Little Things Movie Plot Explained: What Actually Happens In Denzel Washington Film

By Nathan Johnson Posted:
Denzel Washington The Little Things

John Lee Hancock's The Little Things takes viewers on a wild ride with Denzel Washington and other A-list actors, and due to its mysterious plot and twist ending, many are wondering exactly what happened in the film.

The Little Things was first released in theaters on January 29, 2021. The film also premiered on the HBO Max (now just Max) streaming platform on the same date for one month due to the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The title more recently was added to Netflix, giving an entirely different audience a chance to view the Denzel Washington murder mystery.

[ The Little Things Movie: Who Was the Killer? ]

What Really Happens in The Little Things?

Denzel Washington as Deacon in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

The Little Things follows Denzel Washington's Joe Deacon and Rami Malek's Jim Baxter as they hunt down a serial killer terrorizing the city of Los Angeles, California.

The film makes sure to tell the audience that the murders in question are extremely similar to other murders that took place in the past, specifically in a case that Deacon worked on.

One of the driving forces of The Little Things is how the past case affected Deacon and if the current murders will have as much of an impact on him. While working on the older case, it was revealed that Deacon became so obsessed with it that he had a heart attack, a triple bypass surgery, and even got divorced, which is why he still lives alone during the present time in the film.

Deacon and Malek's Baxter first meet when the two are gathering evidence for a recent murder case, which is when viewers find out that it could be linked to other murders around the city, meaning that they are dealing with a serial killer.

Deacon and Baxter visit the home of Julie Brock (who is another victim), where they find her tied up and stabbed. 

The Little Things then jumps slightly forward and shows another woman, Ronda Rathbun, being followed by a brown car. The next morning, Ronda is reported missing.

It is important to note that this brown car was shown at the very beginning of the film following a different woman. While it seemed as though she was able to escape, it did set up and confirm that one person was terrorizing these women.

Deacon and Baxter do apprehend a suspect and bring him into the police station. This suspect, who is a registered sex offender named Stan Peters, seems extremely bothered by the murders and even gets extremely uneasy when they mention another victim's name - Mary Roberts.

Another body eventually washes ashore, but it is unfortunately not Ronda's. Baxter and Deacon investigate, of course, and it is then revealed that Stan (their suspect) committed suicide.

All roads eventually lead Deacon and Baxter to Jared Leto's Albert Sparma, who works at a repair shop.

One key detail that almost all of the victims have in common is that they are sex workers, so Sparma looks even more suspicious after he is seen picking up a prostitute in a car that looks extremely similar (if not the same) as the one the killer has been using.

Sparma is brought in for questioning, but when the detectives show Tina (who was the one followed at the very beginning of the film by the brown car) a lineup with Sparma in it, she cannot identify him.

It is also important to note that Sparma gets sexually aroused when shown photos of the crime scenes, making him look even more guilty. However, the film also reveals that Sparma was looked at in a murder investigation eight years prior, to which he falsely confessed, meaning that the detectives probably cannot trust him.

The Little Things' Twist Ending Explained

Jared Leto as Sparma in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

After Deacon and Baxter spend the entire film trying to figure out who the serial killer is, in a turn of events, Sparma admits to Baxter that he has been responsible for them. He even says that he took Ronda's body out to the desert and buried her.

Sparma takes Baxter out to the desert, but the body is never found. Instead, Sparma taunts the detective and pushes him past his breaking point, causing him to hit the suspect with a shovel, instantly killing him.

Deacon then shows up and helps Baxter cover up the fact that he murdered Sparma, which causes Baxter to feel immense guilt.

The Little Things then flashes forward to show Baxter at his house, still feeling the effects of Sparma's death. The detective then receives a package from Deacon, and when he opens it, he finds a red barrette, exactly like the one Ronda's parents said she was wearing when she went missing.

This barrette makes it seem as though Deacon found it with Sparma's possessions, indicating that he did kill her.

However, it is then revealed that Deacon bought a package of barrettes and sent the red one to Baxter to make him feel better and offer a sense of closure.

Who Was the Actual Killer in The Little Things?

Denzel Washington as Deacon in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

The majority of The Little Things' runtime makes it seem as though Sparma is the killer, and while that may be true, director John Lee Hancock intentionally crafted the film to be interpretive.

Yes, a lot of evidence pointed to him being the one behind all the murders, but other moments indicated that it could be someone else.

For example, as previously mentioned, Sparma falsely admitted to murdering someone in the past, and when he led Baxter to the desert, Ronda's body was not there, so it is entirely possible and even likely that he was playing the detectives all along.

It is also possible that Deacon could be the killer. He has a dark past, especially considering he killed someone by accident.

However, due to how obsessed he became with previous murders and how they affected him, it could have resulted in him going crazy and becoming a killer himself.

What Was the Point of The Little Things?

Rami Malek as Baxter in The Little Things
Warner Bros.

A lot of themes and deeper meanings could be applied to The Little Things, but one in particular sticks out above the rest.

As the title reads, the words "the little things" have a massive significance in the overall film.

For example, at one point, Deacon says that those "little things" are what "can get you caught:"

"It’s the little things that are important, Jimmy. It’s the little things that get you caught."

While it seems as though Deacon is talking about the killer leaving little details behind, that statement can also apply to what Deacon himself has gone through in his life.

By focusing on the little things like all of the details of the past murder investigations and everything that happened to him, Deacon had a heart attack, lost his wife, and had to have triple bypass surgery.

In other words, worrying about those "little things" that he had no control over, he got caught and lost all of the important major aspects that made his life.

Another theme of The Little Things is that not everything is always going to turn out the way it is supposed to and that sometimes what a person is looking for may not always be right there in front of them.

Deacon and Baxter were never able to solve Ronda's murder, and although they thought they found the person responsible, they never figured it out for certain.

The Little Things is available to stream on Netflix and Max.

Read more about the meanings of other films:

Spaceman Plot Explained: The True Meaning of the Movie

Dream Scenario Plot Explained: The True Meaning of the Nicolas Cage Movie

Midsommar Movie's Ending Explained: The True Meaning of the Film

The Homesman Movie Twist Ending Explained

- About The Author: Nathan Johnson
Nathan is a writer at The Direct where he covers Star Wars, the MCU, and DC news. He joined The Direct in April 2021 and currently writes news and feature articles about all three brands mentioned above, but his main specialty is his knowledge about anything and everything Star Wars.