Those who demand easy answers in movies and clear cut motives from the characters will likely find Blue Caprice an unfulfilling and distant character study, one which centers on the Beltway Sniper attacks that left Washington paralyzed for three weeks in 2002. The brilliance of director Alexandre Moors’ feature debut, in addition to quietly powerful performances from its two main leads, is that it offers no definite answers as to why this massacre transpired.
True to life, speculation as to motive range from plans to divert attention from the planned murder of one of the assailant’s ex wife, revenge against the U.S. government, terrorist ties and general anarchy. Discovering what ultimately drives these monsters is unimportant in the context of this film, but rather it’s the troubling and empty journey these men take down the path of evil that is so compelling.
Taking on the notorious gunmen John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond. Both deliver nuanced and disturbing performances, but with varying approaches. We witness a differing speed at which these two finally become the savages which made global headlines – these are individuals with which we both see deeply into but at the same time know nothing about. The way these actors and the director are able to make enigmas out of the antagonists without resorting to painting them as faceless monsters is an extraordinary feat.
Channelling Idris Elba in the best ways, Washington does Oscar level work as a broken man whose anger and disillusionment manifests in the worst possible way. Between his work on Grey’s Anatomy and supporting work in some higher profile fare, he has never really been given the chance to stretch his dramatic legs. Here, he shows how capable he can be when given the spotlight. He plays off young Tequan Richmond with aplomb, with the promising North Carolina native truly coming into his character in the final act, after long sequences of shyness and inwardly directed sadness. Among the most disquieting scenes comes when John teaches Lee how to drive, an act between father and son that is considered to be one of the most important bonding experiences of growing up. In knowing what is to come, it takes on a whole new (and ultimately very disturbing) meaning.
Aside from inherently being a taut and troubling scenario, the way that the tension and narrative drive is brought to the forefront is also noteworthy, especially when the outcome is so widely known. When we first meet with Malvo (and to a lesser extent Muhammad) we see them as damaged but salvageable individuals – those given an unfair stab at life but who could display redemptive qualities if given the chance. As we see Malvo fall further and further under the manipulative spell of his surrogate father, and who in turn finds fuel in his adoptive son, it’s hard to watch not simply because of their actions but where we know this is all headed. In wanting so much for these lost souls to find an honest meaning in life, and see them both missing and avoiding it, the dread and tension ratchets up organically and with an impact you won’t soon shake.
Moors also makes the sound decision never to distort or falsely heighten the actual acts of the shootings. Seeing a man in the throws of death in a pool of blood at the base of a gas pump is powerful enough without seeing these two perpetrate every single act. So to does the choice to not magnify the scope of the crimes with fictionalized getaways or close calls in their titular vehicle. The barrel of a gun sticking out of a trunk and an off screen shot does more than enough in the ugly world we’re introduced to in Blue Caprice. There are certainly moments of graphic violence interspersed throughout, but they’re handled in a brief and ugly manner that serves to showcase the emptiness of it all.
Based on the subject matter and the recent horrific gun based acts that have rocked America as of late, Blue Caprice will no doubt bring up the hot button topic of gun control, with some likely looking at the film as a call for help and others as pro liberal pandering meant to take a past tragedy and use it as propaganda. In both instances they would be not only wrong but also, they would be missing the point of this drama, or rather the pointlessness of these men’s actions. Could this act have been avoided with tighter gun laws? Likely. But Blue Caprice has no such pretentions and simply paints a disturbing portrait of men on the edge of reality.
Both as a showcase for the skill of the filmmakers and actors and an examination of the flourishing emotional void this duo carries with them every day, Blue Caprice succeeds and does so in a manner that will leave you exhausted and troubled. In having so much to hate on screen, there is so much to love about this confident inaugural feature, one which worrisomely shows that the loss of one’s humanity can begin with a single act.