Alexandre Moors is a brave man. For his first ever feature film he picked a highly sensitive topic based on the true events of the Beltway snipers with real life footage and 911 calls. The seemingly random shootings occurred in Washing, D.C, Maryland, and Virginia in October 2002, killing ten people and critically wounding three others. For the role of the older sniper, John Allen Muhammad, Moor chose Isaiah Washington, an actor who was famously chased out of Hollywood after making some extremely homophobic remarks to a fellow cast mate. For the role of the younger sniper, Lee Boyd Malvo, Moor found Tequan Richmond, a young man whose body of work mostly consisted of TV shows. Despite all of this, Blue Caprice is a striking piece with two stand out performances and a chilling end.
The opening sequence of the film is filled with gritty realism: we hear terrified and confused witnesses calling the police to report shootings in gas stations, gardens and park benches. We see grainy video of the crime scenes, the police, and the victims. After so many shootings, natural disasters and attacks have occurred throughout the US as of late, the crime footage begins to hit close to home. However, this dark reality is soon lifted as Moor transports us to the Caribbean where we meet John on “vacation” with his children. The children appear to be safe in the arms of their loving father while they spend the day at the beach despite the fact that they have actually been taken without their mother’s permission. As it happens, Lee, freshly abandoned by his mother, sees the happy family and begins to fixate on John who appears to be a fantastic father figure. Lee follows them to the beach where he eventually walks deep into the ocean with no signs of return leaving John to pull him out of the water. The audience is left to wonder if Lee really wanted to kill himself or if he simply wanted John’s attention. Moor knows better than to answer that question and so the complicated and deeply psychological relationship between the two begins.
John brings Lee to America and the two find a father-son type relationship in each other. It soon becomes clear that John is not all that he seems to be: he has no place to call his own, his relationships with women are tumultuous, and he is constantly short on cash. Lee on the other hand stays silent, a thoughtful boy who shows undeniable awe and obedience to a man he’s only just met. It is at this point that we meet John’s good natured, redneck, friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). Ray provides the two men with guns, ammo, a roof over their heads, and a wife for John to steal in secret. More importantly he provides the domesticated life that made these two serial killer’s so shocking. In Ray’s home we see John tell stories and drink beer with his neighbors, we watch Lee feed and care for Ray and Jamie’s baby, and ultimately we see two terrorists living not in some foreign compound but in an ordinary American home. The men stroll down our streets, shop in our supermarkets and eat burgers from our fast food joints. They couldn’t possibly be the same men that killed innocent people at random. In fact it was the police’s belief that there was only one shooter, probably, middle aged, white, male with a military background and Hitchcockian mother issues. Instead, it was two African-American men with friends in the community. Perhaps it is this, combined with the randomness of the killings that make the entire case so chilling. You just never know.
Isaiah Washington plays this complicated role to perfection. He is a loving father who would do anything for his children. He is a psychotic, cold-blooded killer who hates his wife. He saves the life of a drowning boy and later abandons that same boy in the woods, tied to a tree, with no means of escape as part of some kind of psychotic endurance test. Washington’s performance is haunting as he strikes the seemingly impossible balance of psychotic killer and ordinary father. Tequan Richmond is equally as impressive in his role as the innocent turned monster. He is sweet, deprived of love, and aching for attention; he holds a childlike persona throughout the film. As Lee is being tied to the tree, his voice shakes as he asks what he did wrong, quietly begging his “father” to stop. His fear, his inability to fight back, and his absolute panic at being left alone are all present in his voice as he unleashes heartbreaking screams. Despite this strange cruelty, Lee is a faithful servant until the end, worshiping his “father” completely.
Despite these impressive performances, it seems that the film’s direction faltered at times with numerous gaps appearing throughout the plot. For all their obsessive studying and training, the two snipers seem to spend more time making over their car then they do planning the murders. We don’t get an insight to any of the victim’s lives, we don’t see discussions between the two killers, we don’t know much about their strategy, plans or even their relationship during that time. Eventually we stop seeing reason or explanation for any of the character’s actions. Why does Ray put up with his clearly troubled friend? Why did the men decide to travel? Did they find kill spots at random or did they plan it out?
On the one hand, I understand that this feeling of uncertainty is pressed upon the audiences on purpose; one of the most terrifying aspects of this case is the fact that there was no solid reasoning behind it. All the victims were innocent, there was no payment, no religious belief or cause, no real reason at all meaning there was no real way to prevent it. On the other hand, the film presents the killing spree as a largely rushed montage compared to the carefully constructed introduction.
I recently attended a screening of Blue Caprice, followed by a Q&A with Isaiah Washington and Alexandre Moors. When asked what message the film held, Moors replied: “I won’t answer that. The deepest truths of a film go deeper and deeper. You go find it.” He did however explain that the issue of violence in the US is certainly troubling. He wanted to explore why it is that “people embrace violence so easily” as well as our fascination with the “two gunmen’s descent into darkness.” Ultimately though, he explains the film as being incredibly open, like a puzzle with missing pieces that we must fill in. Isaiah Washington agreed as he said each time he read a part of the script he found something new. Furthermore, he concluded that he believed the film to be about love: “whether its unrequited, refused, [or] toxic, it’s about love.”
– Sinann Fetherston