For approximately three weeks in 2002, two snipers terrorized the D.C. area by perpetrating a large number of shootings that left ten people dead and three wounded. It was a time of high tension that made several people too scared to come out in public for fear of being the next victim in their vicious attacks. What was particularly terrifying was that their shootings were completely random, occurring at any time and any place to anyone. This may all seem like the plot to some dramatic thriller, but it all really occurred, and now it’s been given the big screen treatment in Alexandre Moors’ new film “Blue Caprice.”
The film begins by introducing us to Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), a young man who is abandoned by his mother in the Caribbean. Shortly after, he befriends a neighbor, John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington), who takes him under his wing. John takes him to America where we learn a little more about John’s situation. While we don’t get all the details, we know that he had his kids taken away from him and that there’s a restraining order saying that he can’t contact them. This has had a rather deep effect on his mentality, so much so that he begins to plan murders of innocent people, warping young Lee’s mind in the process. Together, the two begin their infamous reign of terror that would have the entire region gripped by fear.
“Blue Caprice,” named for the car used by the two snipers, is a very dark study of these events. It plays as a kind of descent into madness (think Jack Nicholson in “The Shining,” but not as outwardly flamboyant). We think we know the reasoning behind the killings, at least from John’s point of view, but it’s never really expressly stated. What we do get from his lips is a demented attempt to rationalize what he’s doing, but it’s completely nonsensical, and that’s merely one more thing that becomes terrifying about this journey.
As for Lee, should we chalk it up to abandonment issues? That seems a little too simple an explanation. Perhaps he was so desperate to have an authority figure in his life that he just went along with anything that John was saying, whether it made any sense or not. There was certainly something broken there that only became worse with John’s influence. The eerie thing is that he’s so calm and collected about what he’s doing, or at least that’s the way he’s portrayed in the film. He never really questions or attempts to put a stop to it, but instead keeps continuing on with it as long as he can, with his perception between right and wrong completely destroyed.
It would be so easy to grab actors for these parts and just tell them to act insane, but what we get with Tequan Richmond and Isaiah Washington is far more subtle. Richmond has to portray a young man who’s lost and abandoned at first, eventually turning into a cold hard killer due to being pushed in the wrong direction by John. He pulls this off admirably, never going over the top with the character, but rather keeping him restrained and mysterious. Likewise, Washington has to go through a transformation, but he has to subtly depict his descent. As I said, it’s nothing flamboyant. Every little action and piece of dialogue become his tools to show that he’s slowly losing his grip on sanity.
What’s rather interesting about the way it all came to an end is the continued randomness of it all. We already knew that their victims were completely random, without motive or purpose, but so were the circumstances surrounding how they were caught. Malvo and Muhammad just happened to be found sleeping in their car at a rest stop, having been reported by someone who found the car suspicious. At the time, it was suspected that the sniper was using a white vehicle, so their capture in the blue Caprice all happened by chance. We’re only given a brief glimpse of this event in the film, but given that most people already know how the story ended, it’s more than enough to get the effect across.
The only real complaints I have about the film are that it moves a little slowly at times and that it takes a little while before it gets going, but when it does, it becomes a fascinating look at these two criminals who were driven to commit their senseless acts for different reasons. It’s rather impressive that this is Alexandre Moors' first feature film and Ronnie Porto’s first screenplay. Their portrait of these killers could very well get under your skin, which is more than likely the effect they were going for in the first place. It just goes to show that even now it’s hard to tell what kind of madness drove Malvo and Muhammad to do what they did. The film doesn’t give us solid answers, but that’s because there will probably never be any. 3/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow in limited release.
Now playing in theaters: Riddick, Hell Baby, Touchy Feely, Passion, The Lifeguard, Short Term 12, The Grandmaster, Kick-Ass 2, 2 Guns, Only God Forgives, Fruitvale Station, Despicable Me 2, Monsters University
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic