×

Blue Caprice

A chillingly plausible and responsibly handled attempt to dramatize the disturbing bond between the two men behind the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks.

With:
With: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, Leo Fitzpatrick, Cassandra Freeman, Linda Powell, April Yvette Thompson, Ron Simons, Al Sapienza.

Blue Caprice” is a chillingly plausible and responsibly handled attempt to dramatize the disturbing bond between the two men behind the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. Precision-honed performances and a nonsensationalistic approach distinguish this impressive first feature from French helmer Alexandre Moors, which avoids pat explanations as it offers a speculative glimpse into murderous minds. With the debate over gun violence and its root causes back in the media spotlight, “Caprice” already has generated a fair amount of publicity, which should only improve the otherwise limited commercial prospects for this grim, bruising psychological drama.

Ten people were killed, and three critically injured, when 40-year-old John Allen Muhammed and his 17-year-old partner, Lee Malvo, embarked on their three-week killing spree, randomly targeting civilians in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia in the fall of 2002. Moors and screenwriter R.F.I. Porto run the risk of controversy for choosing to focus so exclusively on the psychology of the killers, though the filmmakers’ aim is transparently to illuminate rather than to exploit, to bring a measure of sobering clarity to the question of human evil.

Lee (Tequan Richmond) is a lonely, quiet teenager living on the Caribbean island of Antigua when he’s abandoned by his single mom, apparently not for the first time. Wandering the near-empty streets and beaches, he has a fateful encounter with an older man, John (Isaiah Washington), who immediately establishes himself as a sort of father-protector figure, helping the boy perfect his English and eventually bringing him with him to Tacoma, Wash. Yet what initially looks like a mutually fulfilling bonding experience soon starts to give off unsettling vibes.

John is a man of seething, indiscriminate rage, although he reserves his deepest hostility for the ex-wife who took out a restraining order against him and their children. Genuinely affectionate around small kids, John takes a sterner fatherly tack with Lee, subjecting the teen to his violently anarchic rants and ordering him to prove his love for him through criminal acts. When Lee turns out to be a natural at the shooting range they visit with John’s old Army pal, Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), John looks on with silent approval.

Washington gives a performance at once scarily authoritative and finely modulated, releasing his character’s anger in carefully measured increments; when John ties Lee to a tree and abandons him as part of some bizarre soldier-training regimen, his actions seem both tender and abusive. Yet Richmond, best known for “Everybody Hates Chris,” is no less mesmerizing in a virtually silent screen performance that makes use of slackerish body language. Acting with virtually his eyes alone, he manages to convey the bitterness and damage of Lee’s past, as well as his frightening malleability in John’s hands.

Over the course of a fleet 93 minutes, Moors expertly juggles character insight with a keen attention to process, as John purchases the titular blue Chevy Caprice in which he and Lee will make their journey eastward, with a Bushmaster .223 rifle in tow. The shocking attacks themselves are relegated to an extended montage in the picture’s final minutes, and for all the intimacy the film has established with its characters leading up to this point, the effect is not identification or complicity, but a sense of abject horror.

Throughout, Moors and Porto plant seeds that flirt with and ultimately frustrate any simplistic explanations for “what caused this.” Lee is shown playing a first-person shooter vidgame, but the scene is presented with no special emphasis or implication. He and John often spend time with Ray and his wife (Joey Lauren Adams), hinting that theirs is not a completely antisocial vacuum. Malvo, now serving six life sentences, stated in 2012 that Muhammed (who was executed in 2009) had sexually abused him, a claim that is neither supported nor refuted here. In the end, one is left to conclude that whatever external forces may have contributed, it was the uniquely toxic commingling of their personalities — each one coaxing the other in turn — that pushed Malvo and Muhammed toward their monstrous crimes.

The low-budget tech package is pro in all departments. D.p. Brian O’Carroll’s widescreen lensing captures Antigua’s balmy beauty in the early scenes, a pervasive sense of brokenness and decay in the lengthy Tacoma midsection. The wide-ranging soundtrack includes a fair number of classical selections, most memorably Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 20, lending gravitas to the TV coverage of the attacks that opens the picture.

Popular on Variety

Blue Caprice

Production: A Simonsays Entertainment presentation of a Stephen Tedeschi, Aiko Films, Intrinsic Value Films production in association with Coal House Prod., High Def New York, Prolific Entertainment, Streetwise Pictures. (International sales: Cinetic, New York.) Produced by Alexandre Moors, Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Ron Simons, Tedeschi, Brian O'Carroll, Kim Jackson, Will Rowbotham. Executive producers, Hilary Stabb, Jonathan Gray, Isaiah Washington, Charles Parlato. Directed by Alexandre Moors. Screenplay, R.F.I. Porto; story, Alexandre Moors, Porto.

Crew: Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Brian O'Carroll; editors, Alexandre Moors, Gordon Grinberg; music, Colin Stetson, Sarah Neufeld; production designer, Kay Lee; set decorator, Izzy Quevenard; costume designer, Minori Kuraoka Moors, Eniola Dawodu; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Tom Paul; stunt coordinator, Manny Siverio; associate producers, Tara Kromer, Adel Nur, Zach Horton, April Thompson; assistant director, Caroline Aragon; casting, Eve Battaglia. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 19, 2013. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, Leo Fitzpatrick, Cassandra Freeman, Linda Powell, April Yvette Thompson, Ron Simons, Al Sapienza.

More Film

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

    Film Review: 'A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon'

    No asteroids are hurtling toward Earth in “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon,” though a flying frozen pizza does softly slice the top off an elderly shopper’s hairdo: That’s roughly the level of quirky peril we’re talking about in the latest outing from Aardman Animations, and as usual, the British stop-motion masters cheerfully prove that [...]

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content