Blue Caprice (2013)
Dir. Alexandre Moors
3.5 out of 5
Blue Caprice, Alexandre Moors' debut feature inspired by the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, begins with a montage of news clips reporting on the random slayings of innocent people by an unidentified gunman (or gunmen) with a high-powered rifle. However, Moors' interest is not history. It's banality, a hallmark of this back-to-basics character study of the perpetrators, former Army mechanic John Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and his teenage accomplice, Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond). And although the film has the guts to suggest certain ways in which these men were victimized before the killings started - as a story about an unstable vet who' s rejected by society and spends a lot of time in the woods, Blue Caprice could almost be the parallel universe First Blood - it's not as provocative as it's intended to be. You feel you've heard this story coming out of Aurora, or Sandy Hook, or the D.C. Navy Yard. It is not shocking. It is sadly familiar.
Yet while the real world encroaches too much upon Blue Caprice, it also makes the film feel more urgent. Moors' convention-bucking premise is solid: this is Lee's story, beginning with his life as a fatherless teen in Antigua, where he meets John, a middle-aged man who strikes the posture of a father figure: charismatic, funny, dispenser of discipline and knowledge about the ways of the world. Their relationship evolves into a nightmarish ballad of toxic family values over the next 90 minutes, with Lee's wounded stoicism making him especially susceptible to John's sadistic combination of parenting and brainwashing. There's also an ultimately meaningless forensic side of the story, which comes into play briefly in the form of John's scraggly Army buddy, played by Tim Blake Nelson, who starts to question the duo's enthusiasm for target practice at the behest of his wife (Joey Lauren Adams, in full-on trailer trash mode) and, perhaps, on behalf of the audience. Both actors do fine work, but such characters aren't really necessary in a film that's so fundamentally voyeuristic.
Then again, maybe it only feels that way because of how brilliant Washington and Richmond are, each of them nailing the complexities of the monsters they portray. Washington has the flashier performance - rambling, bitter, and paranoid but also calculating, harping on the need to eradicate "vampires" like the people who testified against him in a child custody case - but Richmond wrestles the spotlight away by the end, conveying Lee's transformation into a facsimile of his seducer in less than 50 lines of dialogue. Directing from a script by fellow first-timer R.F.I. Porto, Moors ultimately structures Blue Caprice as a tale of lost innocence, something he attempts to equate with the frighteningly casual nature of the current epoch in American violence, from the bar TVs blaring dispatches from the Afghan war to John and Lee's cavalier selection of murder targets to the chilling shots of the titular vehicle silently cruising the Beltway for more victims. In the end, Blue Caprice takes a few steps beyond its sensational set-up to say something meaningful about the informality of evil (neither Muhammad's nor Malvo's last name is ever mentioned), even if its conclusions, like the subject matter, seem all too common.