HBO Max's latest release, The Little Things, follows detective Joe "Deke" Deacon's (Denzel Washington) return to detective work after a previous investigation left him divorced and suspended from the job. At the beginning of the film, he's pulled into an investigation of Albert Sparma (Jared Leto): a person who seemingly fits the bill of the serial killer who's terrorizing Los Angeles. Deke is accompanied by star cop Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), the polar opposite of Deke's hardened, wounded character. Together, they try to delve deep into Albert's mind to find out if he's the person responsible for killing a number of young women. It's a frightening tale, but is it a true story? And is Leto's disturbing character based on a real serial killer?
Watching the film, it's important to note the decade in which the movie is set because that's actually when writer-director John Lee Hancock (The Blind Side, The Founder, Saving Mr. Banks) originally wrote the screenplay. As he explained to Deadline: " I wrote it before Se7en. I came across a draft the other day that said it was first registered with the Writers Guild in spring of 1993. I wrote it right after A Perfect World."
Hancock also shed light on the journey to get the film made. "So I went back and read it. I didn’t know if Warner Bros would necessarily be interested in making it," the director also told Deadline. "But they owned it and there was no underlying material. It was something I made up, and way back then, they didn’t pay me a lot to write it."
This more or less confirms the fact that The Little Things isn't exactly based on a true story. (And Sparma isn't a real person.) However, the procedures and investigation techniques shown are true-to-life as they were in 1990. "Now, all these years later, it’s a period piece; 1990, when the story was set, was pre-DNA. A lot has happened with criminology," Hancock said in the same interview. "I went back and culled out some of the CSI-type stuff that at the time was groundbreaking, and people hadn’t seen it before."