While the primary focus in writer-director John Lee Hancock’s (‘The Highwayman’) ‘The Little Things’ is on the mentor-mentee relationship between Kern County Deputy Sheriff Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington) and LASD Detective Jim “Jimmy” Baxter (Rami Malek), their respective interactions with Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), the primary suspect in the serial killing case they are investigating, serve as equally important components of the storyline.
From the moment he makes his first appearance on the screen to when the credits start rolling, Sparma maintains an impregnable aura of mystery around himself. Leto portrays the character with a flair of sensationalism to ensure that the audience members believe, like the two police officers, that Albert Sparma is indeed the serial killer. It is only after watching the climactic scenes of the film that we, again along with the two officers, start to wonder what if he isn’t.
Is Albert Sparma the Killer in the Little Things?
The film never really offers a definitive answer to this question, especially because it doesn’t show who the real killer is. Sparma’s unsettling mannerism and knowledge about the murders make him an obvious suspect in the case. Jimmy and Deke interrogate him, secretly search his apartment, and even put him under constant surveillance but still fail to link him to the murders or find the missing jogger. However, lacking any other suspect, Jimmy and Deke devote all their attention to Sparma.
Their desperation only fuels this obsession of theirs. Captain Carl Farris (Terry Kinney) warns Jimmy that he will soon have to call the FBI. This notion of failure is unacceptable for the rising star of the department. As for Deke, he has been hoping that this case will offer him the redemption he seeks, but it increasingly starts to follow the same pattern as the one that led to his suspension, ended his marriage, and gave him a heart attack.
After introducing Sparma, the film quickly establishes how intelligent and manipulative he is. When he is brought in for the interrogation, it is evident that he is enjoying every moment of it. Captain Farris later reveals to Jimmy that Sparma was previously arrested in a similar case, but it was eventually discovered that he was miles away at the time of the murder. In a movie about obsession and how it eventually leads to downfall, Sparma is a crime buff. He gets a perverse form of pleasure by inserting himself into murder investigations.
Their inability to connect Sparma to the murders forces the two officers to tread the thin line between what is legal and what isn’t. This ultimately culminates in Jimmy holding Sparma on gunpoint and demanding to be led to where the jogger is. For Sparma, this gives him another opportunity to be part of the investigation. He leads Jimmy to the middle of the Californian desert and indicates the spot he says he buried the jogger. Shortly after, he points to another spot. This continues until Jimmy kills him with the shovel.
In the final scenes, the FBI takes over the investigation and begins a manhunt for Sparma. Deke helps Jimmy bury Sparma’s body and destroy all the evidence. To give the younger officer a sense of closure, he sends him a red barrette that looks the same as the one the jogger was wearing when she went missing. This makes Jimmy falsely believe that he killed the correct man. But by almost all indications, Sparma isn’t the killer. The real one is still free.
Is Albert Sparma Based on a Real Person?
No, Albert Sparma is not based on a real person. He is the product of Hancock’s imagination like the rest of the characters in the movie. But the obsession with true crime is quite common. It offers us a path to a reality where we generally don’t have access to. But Sparma takes it to a whole different level. His obsession leads him to become an active part of the investigation.
The film makes a reference to the infamous real-life serial killer Night Stalker, whose birth name was Richard Ramirez. Active in the Greater Los Angeles area and later San Francisco Bay Area between June 1984 and August 1985, he killed at least 14 people. Like Sparma in the film, Ramirez received perverse pleasure by toying with the authorities. In fact, following his arrest, he openly admitted his admiration for one of the detectives attached to his case, Frank Salerno, who was already a legendary figure among crime buffs for solving the case of Hillside Strangler.
Read More: The Little Things Ending, Explained