Writer-Director John Lee Hancock is known for his muted and methodically compelling style of storytelling and his latest – conceived and sat on since the ’90s – is no different. A generic crime drama slow-burning its way to intensity, relying heavily on its stars, rather than the script, to bring the killer performances of delving into the male psyche and their shortcomings.

Denzel Washington, in his entire stoic splendour, takes on the role of Joe ‘Deke’ Deakins, a charming veteran detective turned cop due to a past career misadventure. On an errand to Los Angeles to pick up some evidence, he can’t help himself getting involved in a serial killer case headed by Rami Malek’s slightly arrogant and slick detective Jimmy Baxter. Jimmy, somewhat in awe of Deke’s past career achievements, softens in the blink of an eye and opens up the investigation to Deke to obtain his experience and knowledge in trying to solve the case.

Related: ‘The Little Things’ Press Conference: Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto and John Lee Hancock talk crime dramas, obsession and wigs

As the pair team up, before we know it, Jared Leto’s chilling Albert Sparma – sporting that stereotypical 70’s serial killer aesthetic with the tumbling long hair, eerie methodical walk and paunch, becomes the main suspect. In the process of goading and teasing the officers, he does himself no favours in trying to detract any kind of suspicions from the fixated Deke and Jimmy.

The biggest issue facing the storyline distracting from the is he, isn’t he? plot accompanied by shoddy police work comes in the form of a jarring amount of disjointed flashbacks to reveal Deke’s backstory. Hindering the flow of pace and thrown in at random intervals takes away from the here and now, it feels like an afterthought that could have been cut down into two segments.

The majority of the drama revolves around nailing down the coffin on Sparma without much credence being paid to the murdered women. In fact, women, yet again, take a back seat as Jimmy’s wife plays the long-suffering caregiver while Deke flirts with an old colleague and that’s as far as it goes.

Leto’s Sparma is cut from the most disturbingly brilliant cloth, each time he walks into a scene he commands it and steals the show, hacking away at the deadwood. Who knew Leto would make for the perfect serial killer? Washington, without doubt, makes every passionate decision effortlessly flawless as his dark and regrettable past unravels itself, while Malek doesn’t come into his own until the pressures of the job see him make the most regrettable of choices.

Despite its glaring flaws and Hancock channelling remnants of David Fincher’s Se7en with a twist, the watch-ability factor remains high for those absorbed by a crime drama with exceptional performances. It’s a throwback passion for Hancock built on strapping, traditional bones of the past, not suitable for those with a more sophisticated palette.

You can rent the movie premiere of The Little Things at home from 11th March.