Director Alexandre Moors has made a bold, if not challenging choice of subject for his debut feature film. In 2002, residents living in and around Washington D.C. were practically paralyzed with fear when people started dropping dead in broad daylight, victims of an unseen sniper using a high-powered rifle. The attacks left 10 dead and three injured. At least 11 others were killed leading up to the sniping from the trunk of a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. Hence the film’s title: Blue Caprice.
Moors has chosen to focus on the two men convicted of these attacks: John Allen Muhammad (later executed by lethal injection) and Lee Boyd Malvo (currently serving six consecutive life sentences). When police found them sleeping in the Caprice at a rest stop, Muhammad was 41 and Malvo 17. Focusing on Muhammad and Malvo, or John and Lee as they are solely credited and referred to in the film, Moors creates a rather disturbing portrait of a boy looking for a father figure and a man looking for a substitute for his lost family (his wife had sole custody of his three children).
The film opens with a montage of news footage covering the aftermath of the attacks and the sound of 911 calls following the shootings. It’s an intense set-up for what unfortunately turns out to be a rather languorous film. The cold gray and blue palette of the film does well to reflect the steely heart of the central figures, played with complimentary icy intensity by Isaiah Washington as the elder killer and Tequan Richmond as the younger one. But it also serves the film’s sleepy quality, as ultimately, these two figures are never painted as interesting to watch.
The two actors at the core of the drama melt into their roles, however. This is Dr. Burke of “Grey’s Anatomy” and Drew, the slick player brother, in “Everybody Hates Chris.” But you never once think about these lighter TV roles when watching the two soulless beings of Blue Caprice interact, reaching out their feelers for a connection that can never happen.
John seems to have short-circuited in his quest for his children. Paranoia and anger have taken over. All he wants is to create “total chaos” in the world that moves on past him, as he slips into irrelevance without his family. Washington keys into a thousand-mile stare of a man who seems to be a ghost wandering limbo (Muhammad was a Gulf War veteran). His cold, steely demeanor never connects with anyone beyond his pawn, the young trigger man who so badly wants a father.
Lee also seems distant to anyone else around him. Plucked from the island of Antigua by John after John rescues him from drowning himself, the filmmaker implies Lee’s rebirth. This is now his father, and he will do whatever he can to please him. Richmond’s brooding demeanor indeed mirrors John, but comes from a different place. There are never any instances of remorse or any signs of devotion to anyone else but John. He’s as cold as John.
These are not exciting performances to watch, but they are honest to the material. There could have been more to this film and the characterizations at the heart of it. The real Malvo later came forward admitting he was sexually abused by John. But the filmmaker seems more interested in the impenetrable mystery of two men teaming together for a spree of terror.
Moors spends most of the film setting up their relationship, which feels hardly dynamic. From Antigua and into the U.S., matter-of-fact dealings with shady characters, the anticipated violence eventually arrives with little drama, as it’s inevitable, making the set-up feel a tad superfluous as there is hardly any deeper insight into the minds of these killers besides a social disconnect.
When the crime wave kicks off, it’s mostly presented in montage form. You have concern for the victims’ families, as they become props to the pair at the stone-cold heat of the film. There’s one sequence that reveals the communication between the killers as John acts as lookout while Lee curls into the trunk of the Caprice with the barrel of the sniper rifle hardly sticking out of a hole they have cut under the trunk’s lid. It’s one of the more insightful moments into their calculating manner. It holds back from the actual bullet impact, but one wonders if the damage to victim respect hasn’t already been done in the montage. The director should have just gone for the horror to add a much-needed visceral element to the film.
Granted, this is a difficult subject to pay proper respect. You can almost see the filmmaker struggling with his conscience at times with how he presents the men and their crimes. But then, how can we maintain interest in these killers if we cannot sympathize with them in some form? That’s the main issue with Blue Caprice. What should have felt intense and haunting only comes across as slightly creepy and dull. Though a noble effort, the film ultimately, therefore, falters.
Blue Caprice runs 93 minutes and is rated R (it’s violent and disturbing). It’s now playing on VOD and probably at a theater near you (visit the film’s official site linked at the top of this review). In South Florida, it premieres Today, Sept. 27, at MDCulture Art Cinema at Koubek Theater in Miami. The following week, starting Oct. 4, it expands to Miami Beach at Miami Beach Cinematheque and Fort Lauderdale at Cinema Paradiso.