The Little Things was the first feature film released exclusively to HBO Max as part of Warner Bros. Pictures’ deal to bring their entire 2021 schedule to the VOD service.
This crime thriller takes place in Las Angeles and follows two detectives Joe ‘Deke’ Deacon played by Denzel Washington and Rami Malek’s detective Jim Baxter. When the movie picks up Deke finds a way in to help Baxter investigate a string of homicides that lead the pair to a strange individual that seemingly fits the MO of their killer. This character, Albert Sparma portrayed by Jared Leto quickly becomes the lead suspect for the killings and the antagonist for the rest of the film.
The Little Things does a fantastic job at leaving the film’s conclusion ambiguous and even if you’d been paying close attention throughout it can still be confusing. In this article, we will be breaking down the ending of The Little Things and doing our best to break down who was the killer throughout the film. Obviously, this will contain spoilers so continue at your own risk.
How Does The Little Things End?
In desperation, as the FBI is set to take over the case in the coming day’s Detective Baxter approaches Sparma himself, demanding that he show the location for the body of one of the victims from earlier in the film Ronda Rathbun. Seemingly admitting to the crime, Sparma offers to drive Baxter out to a location where he claims that he had buried her body.
As the pair arrive at a remote location in the desert Sparma hands Baxter a shovel and directs him to dig where he claims to have buried the jogger’s body, however, after digging several holes Sparma claims he never killed anyone at all. Not convinced, Baxter continues the search for Rathbun’s remains while being constantly taunted by Sparma. Eventually, Baxter snaps and slams Sparma over the head with the shovel instantly killing him.
At this point, Deke arrives immediately having a flashback of when he had accidentally killed a victim during a similar unresolved sting of homicides from before the events of the film. We also see that two of the earlier introduced characters in the film helped him to cover up the crime back in the day. With this experience in mind, Deke tells Baxter to bury the body in the desert while Deke heads back to Sparma’s apartment to collect up all his things and dispose of his vehicle. The next morning Deke heads back out to the desert to find that Baxter had not buried Sparma, instead desperately digging in search of Rathbun’s body, evidence that would justify his killing of Sparma and some closure on the case.
In the film’s final scenes we see Baxter at home once again with his family when a letter arrives in the mail. Inside the letter are a red hairclip, the same type that Rathbun was believed to have been wearing when she disappeared, and a note that says “No Angels” similar to a quote Deke said earlier in the film.
The final scene is of Deke back at his home burning the belongings of Sparma, however, we see packaging belonging to the hairclip he had sent to Baxter sitting in the back of his car, hinting that he had brought the item instead of finding it amongst Sparma’s belongings.
Who Was The Killer?
The Little Things does an excellent job of keeping the audience in the dark about who the killer is throughout the film. Ultimately we never are told their murderer’s identity, but there is plenty of evidence suggesting that it had been Sparma. The evidence begins with his job as an appliance technician working at the same shop as the appliance repair shop one of the film’s first victims had called. Furthermore, the wire used to restrain the victims is seen in the store and Sparma seems to stare at it when Deke enters the building to investigate.
Sparma’s obsession with crime and murderers is alluded to throughout the film from his collection of books to him straight out calling himself a “self-proclaimed crime buff”. These books aren’t the only odd items in his apartment, they are amongst mysteriously named tapes, a hidden floor cavity, and a police scanner. The timeline of the murders also seems to match the travel plans of Sparma having stopped for a short time while he had been in Michigan, where another murder had taken place with a similar callsign.
The strongest evidence to suggest that Sparma was the killer is that he seemingly knew about a woman’s death at the time when only the police had that information. During the scene where Deke is tailing Sparma in his car, Sparma stops his vehicle right next to the exit where one of the victims was found. Despite these clues, there is no hard evidence that can connect Sparma to the crimes, and there is also counter-evidence that would suggest the murders were completed by someone else.
Firstly, it is revealed midway through the film that Sparma had attempted to incriminate himself for a murder he couldn’t possibly have committed in the past. In 1982, Sparma signed a confession stating that he had committed murder before the police later discovered he could not have been the killer.
If you’re thinking that Sparma couldn’t have been the killer then the best evidence to back up your case would be the opening scene of the film. In this sequence when the woman is being chased by our killer they are driving a car that is never again seen in the film. On top of this, we get a look at the bottom half of the killer’s face and they don’t appear with any facial hair while just days later Sparma is taken into the station with a full beard.
There are also implications that the murderer between the first set of murders in 1985 that caused Deke to become obsessed and lose his position at the station, and the murders set in the 90s were completed by two different people. While at first, their targets seem similar, in the initial killings the victims were solely prostitutes, while in the more recent string of homicides were not.
What Was The Importance Of The Hairclip?
From early on in the film it is revealed that Deke is fighting demons from his past that had come from him failing to find the killer in his previous murder case. After accidentally discharging a shot and killing one of the victims, Deke became further invested in the case obsessively searching for the individual responsible for the murders and justification for what he had done.
In this quest, Deke loses not only his job as a detective but also his marriage. This obsessiveness ultimately cost him everything and he still wasn’t able to find the killer and gain any closure on the case. When the string of homicides set in the 90s that the film is centered around begin to take place Deke decides to get involved believing that it may be connected to his previous case years prior. As Baxter and he begin to investigate the case and get further into the film it becomes more apparent that Baxter is slowly progressing down a similar path to that Deke had. This comes to a point at the climax of the film when Baxter strikes Sparma over the head killing him with the shovel.
Having first-hand knowledge of what the obsession and lack of closure of a case can do to you, Deke chooses to send Baxter the hairclip, implying that Sparma had been the one to kill the women and in turn offering Baxter an opportunity to live his life guilt-free.