The Little Things can definitely be considered one of the best thriller movies of the last few years. Directed with classic investigative movies in mind, starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, the film follows two detectives of different generations hunting a local serial killer. Many things stay mysterious, and once you reach the ending, you indeed have many things that need to be explained. Was Albert really the killer? Was the box in his apartment empty? And what is the meaning of the “no angels” paper and the red barrette Deke sends to Jim at the end? Let’s explore all aspects of this movie.
You can watch the official trailer for The Little Things here on Youtube.
The Little Things ending explained: “no angels” and the empty box
Everything in the movie The Little Things spins around the hunt for the serial killer. A young investigator (Jim, Rami Malek) and an older deputy (Deke, Denzel Washington) are involved in the case. Women keep dying, and Deke has even a personal motive to find the killer because of a similar situation he experienced years before, with an old case.
Deke and Jim have identified a suspect: Albert Sparma (Jared Leto). A lot of hints point at him: he worked close to one of the victims, he likes roast beef (the meat the killer ate when he killed one of the victims), he has two cars with high mileage, and he got excited while looking at the photos of the victims’ corpses. Moreover, when Deke broke into his apartment, he found a box hidden under the floor with a collection of newspapers talking about the murders.
Nevertheless, the investigation doesn’t come to an end, and what happens at the ending of The Little Things has a precise meaning that needs to be explained. Albert provokes Jim up to the point that Jim snaps and kills him. Deke will help Jim hide Albert’s body, and the investigation won’t be officially closed. Jim will quit, the feds will start the investigation from scratch, and Deke will clean up Albert’s apartment so nothing will lead to him and Jim.
Was Albert the real killer? The whole point in The Little Things is that no evidence can incriminate him. There are strong hints that can convince us he’s guilty, but also many others that would point to the opposite conclusion. The Little Things is oriented to leave this question open, planting ambiguous signs that can be interpreted in many ways (including the full/empty box on Albert’s apartment). Even the movie director, John Lee Hancock, talked about it in this interview with EW, saying explicitly:
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.
Even Jared Leto, the actor playing Albert in The Little Things, asked the director to tell him if his character was guilty. And Hancock answered: “I don’t know, and that’s not what the movie’s about.” So the question about Albert, whether he is the killer or not, is not destined to be answered.
This is crucial to remember if we want the ending of The Little Things explained. Jim has quit the police because he feels guilty. He killed a man, and he doesn’t have full clarity on his guilt. The experienced investigator Deke perfectly understood this: Jim would never find closure, and guilt would devour him. So he sends him an envelope with two elements that would help him: a piece of paper with “no angels” written on it and a red barrette.
The “no angels” paper is one of the most mysterious elements in The Little Things. These words refer to something Deke said in the movie: their job isn’t about being people’s guardian angels. You cannot save everyone, and you can’t take a case personally. Mentioning “no angels” at the ending of The Little Things, Deke wanted to say something more to Jim: we are not perfect, and our job is a descent into hell, so things like that happen. That could work in mitigating Jim’s guilt. At the same time, it can be a reference to himself: by protecting Jim from his own sense of responsibility, Deke is playing as his angel, and he needs to remind Jim (and himself) that there are no angels in this world, protecting us from evil.
The red barrette is related to another critical “little thing,” another crucial detail in the movie’s plot. After Albert died, Deke returned to his home and found the empty box under the floor. This means that they really have no evidence against Albert. Since this detail could break Jim’s conscience, Deke sends him a red barrette like the one Ronda Rathbun wore the night she disappeared, making Jim believe he found it in Albert’s apartment as evidence that proves Albert was the killer. But the truth is that Deke bought that barrette on purpose as a way to help Jim deal with his guilt: we have confirmation of this in the last scene, when Deke holds the barrette box he bought with the red one missing.
The empty box, the red barrette, and the paper with “no angels” written on it all point to the only truth that can be explained in The Little Things: we don’t know if Albert was the killer. There are strong suspicions against him but no actual evidence that can prove his guilt. Deke and Jim will go on with their lives with this doubt. If the murders stop now that Albert is dead, they will have reasonable confidence that he was the killer. If even just one more woman gets killed, they will probably realize they killed an innocent man.