Directed by: Alexandre Moors.
Written by: R.F.I. Porto.
Starring: Isaiah Washington (John), Tequan Richmond (Lee), Tim Blake Nelson (Ray), Joey Lauren Adams (Jamie), Leo Fitzpatrick (Arms Dealer), Al Sapienza (Detective Harper), Cassandra Freeman (Angela), April Yvette Thompson (Lee's Mother).
Making a movie based on a real life case – a case that saw multiple people killed – is a very tricky balancing act. If you show too much, you’re simply making an exploitation film – using an infamous case to draw interest in your film, and let the audience feel like insiders. On the other hand, if you don’t show enough, you risk downplaying the severity of the crimes themselves – and not capturing the horrific nature of the crimes themselves. Alexandre Moors’ Blue Caprice is a movie that mostly gets the balancing act right. It is about the infamous D.C. Snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo, who for a few weeks in the summer of 2002 terrorized Washington and its suburbs, by gunning down more than a dozen people – seemingly at random. No one had any idea who was committing the murders, why – and no one knew if they were safe or not. The snipers attacked people in parking lots, or while pumping gas. While not terrorists in the traditional sense, they certainly terrorized Washington – making everyone question whether or not there was anywhere they could be safe.
Blue Caprice opens with a montage – clips of real 911 phone calls during the killers’ spree, and news footage, in an effort to get you to see right from the start the terror the two men you will spend the majority of the movie with inspired. When the film finally gets to the spree itself – more than an hour into a 90 minute movie – Moors employs a similar tactic once again – not showing the pair actually carry out one of their killings, but rather using real calls and footage to show their aftermath. I’m not quite sure this tactic goes far enough in showing the terror they caused – but it comes close.
The movie opens in Antigua, as Lee (Tequan Richmond) watches his mother leave him. Where ever his father is, he’s not in the picture, and his mother tells him she has to go away – if he wants to eat, she has to work – and in order to work, she has to leave. It’s only in this opening scene we see her at all – she leaves, and never comes back. He sees John (Isaiah Washington) with his three kids on vacation, and starts following them around. John seems to love his kids – he would never just pack up and leave them like his mother just did to Lee. Eventually, John will invite Lee to stay with them. They are on a “secret” vacation that they cannot tell their mom about. When they pack up to return to America – Lee goes with them.
Most of the movie will be just John and Lee. John loses his kids once he returns to the States (in scenes left off-screen) – he doesn’t even know where they are. The pair end up staying with gun nut Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams), and their infant. Ray considers John to be a friend – but almost from the beginning, we see what friendship means to John, which isn’t much. John is a user and a manipulator – he gets people to do whatever he wants them to do. With a damaged kid like Lee – not wanting to lose yet another parental figure – this is almost too easy.
Washington’s performance in Blue Caprice is the best work he has ever done – and a reminder of what a good actor he can be. After being fired from Grey’s Anatomy for using a homophobic slur, he has had difficulty finding work. It’s been easy to forget that this is the same actor who has delivered excellent performances in films like Spike Lee’s Clockers (1995) and Get on the Bus (1996) and Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (1998). Here, he does an excellent job playing John – he never makes him over the top evil, but rather does an impressively subtle job playing him. He does seem like a good father at the beginning of the movie – and a genuinely nice guy. Who else would take a lost kid like Lee in, when he has nowhere else to go? But even in these early scenes, there is something not quite right about him – something a little off. It’s not much – an offhand remark, or a look in the eye, that shows John’s darkness. Gradually, this darkness takes over – a chilling monologue in a grocery store (that we’ll hear twice), shows just how deranged this man really is. In some ways, Richmond’s role is even more difficult – he stays silent much of the time. He is basically a good kid, who gradually gets sucked into John’s demented worldview. I’m not sure he ever actually buys into what John is selling – but he wants so desperately to have someone in his life – and no one other than John seems to care – that he willingly goes along with everything.
Blue Caprice is not an exploitive movie. There have been a rash on movies about real life serial killers over the past 10 years – mostly cheap, direct-to-video movies that exploit the real life crimes of killers to make a quick buck. Blue Caprice isn’t that kind of movie. It’s a thoughtful movie and a disturbing one. Does it show why either John or Lee commit the crimes they do? Not really. It shows them as damaged men – John angry at the world for the loss of his kids, and Lee desperate for parental guidance – but how they settled on what they finally did is one of those things that will probably remain unknowable. Like Gus Van Sant’s Elephant (2005), loosely based on Columbine, Blue Caprice doesn’t really seek to explain everything about the crimes these two men committed – which is what makes the film even more disturbing than it otherwise would be. As audience members, we are conditioned by movies to expect reasons for everything – a show like Criminal Minds deals with serial killers every week, and explains away their behavior in the course of an hour. But real life is messier than that. And this what Blue Caprice shows. It is an excellent debut film for Moors – and a comeback role for Washington. A disturbing film that asks more questions than it can possibly answer.