Are Joe “Deke” Deacon and Jim Baxter Based on Real LA Detectives?

John Lee Hancock’s ‘The Little Things,’ a tense crime drama film, delves into a dark narrative that blurs the lines between moral duty and obsession. Joe “Deke” Deacon, a bigshot detective turned Deputy Sheriff, helms the storyline as he encounters a serial killing case in LA that reminds him of his bleak past. Consequently, as the man teams up with the up-and-coming Detective Jim Baxter, the two spur on each other’s instincts and hunches. However, once the two detectives find a suspect in Albert Sparma, the pressure to catch the strange man in a slip-up scrutinizes their adverse situation.

A neo-noir ripe with classic themes and visuals that delves into the psychological burden of intense police work, ‘The Little Things’ brings an unexpected perspective to the genre through its nuanced character work. Consequently, Deacon and Baxter’s exceptional pursuit of their serial killer is bound to stir some curiosity in the audience regarding the detectives’ basis in real crime. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Deacon and Baxter: The Real-Life Research Behind The Fictional Cops

Due to the innate fictionality of ‘The Little Things,’ credited to the imagination of director/screenwriter Hancock, the characters within the story also find a fictitious origin. Consequently, neither detectives, Joe Deacon or Jim Baxter, have a basis in an actual cop that ties them to reality. As such, both characters remain confined to the film’s fictional borders. Nevertheless, considering the attentive construction of the film’s various elements— from the narrative to the characters— Deacon and Baxter still manage to maintain a level of authenticity in their roles as law enforcement officers.

Denzel Washington, who embodies Deacon’s character, has a well-known history of playing on-screen cops in various movies, from his Academy Award-winning performance in the 2001 film, ‘Training Day,’ to 1999’s ‘The Bone Collector.’ As such, he holds much experience as an actor portraying the tense, high-stakes life of a cop. The actor discussed the same in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, highlighting how his past experiences helped shape his current performances and said, “I once worked on another film years ago, and I went out with a detective just to get a sense of how it goes.”

Likewise, advice and guidance from real-life professionals played a further role in the depiction of law enforcement within the film through the research Hancock equipped during the film’s development. Employing a friend of a friend contact, the filmmaker got in touch with an LA County Sheriff’s homicide detective, Stan White, who became an invaluable resource to Hancock. “He [White] took me under his wing and took me everywhere with him,” the Director told GQ.

“I probably spent three weeks or a month just in his shadow, and that gave me the chance to ask him lots of questions while we were— sometimes at 3 AM at Denny’s or sitting in a car watching another car that had been stolen to see if someone was going to return to it. You just talk and talk and talk. A whole lot of the small details in the movie came from him.” Furthermore, Hancock added the contribution of real-life experts in the film’s making and said, “When we were in production, we had two homicide detectives from LAPD, who were terrific, there to keep us straight.”

Consequently, through authentic references from real-life law enforcement consultants, the film was able to afford a sense of realism to both Deacon and Baxter’s characters. Even so, more than that, the unique disposition of these characters— who present two sides of the same coin— within the narrative supplies the distinctive perspective that their stories present. The same perspective highlights a raw and unexplored aspect of life within law enforcement circles, furthering Deacon and Baxter’s standing as Detectives.

Rami Malek, who plays Jim Baxter, spoke about this unique trait of his and Washington’s character. “I think we [Washington and Malek] both started to dive into the psychology of these detectives who become obsessed with finding their suspect and how what may seem to be this selfless act can end up being a bit self-serving,” said the actor. “I just found it to be such a complex tightrope for these guys, balancing what part of this is for the detective and what part is for a more altruistic cause. There’s this place where personal conviction takes over public service, and these characters are constantly butting up against both sides.”

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