In 2002 the D.C. area was terrorized by the “Beltway Snipers” who killed ten people from their 1990 blue Caprice over the course of three weeks. Based on these events, Blue Caprice knows how to pack a punch, though it takes the whole of the film for that fist to be thrown.
Blue Caprice, having received significant attention at Sundance and nominated for Best First Feature at the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards, is a quietly disturbing kind of film, made by first-time director/writer Alexandre Moors and first-time screenwriter R.F.I. Porto. Assisted by Sarah Neufield’s carefully composed score and haunting cinematography by Brian O’Carroll, Moors and Porto paint a startling honest picture of the killers.
The tone is set from the very beginning, with real-life news footage from the 2002 attacks. This footage could be deemed excessive, covering the whole story in the D.C. area and in doing so seeming to cover the whole of the movie, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that this is not a movie about killing. It is a movie about killers.
The difficult thing about making a movie like this is that the filmmakers are consciously relying on how, this happened as opposed to the result of what happened. This puts a great deal of emphasis on that “how”. It has to be better than movies with a twist. It has to stand on its own and possess enough substance and power to engage the audience. They come to this film already knowing what happens. If they don’t, Blue Caprice tells them from the very beginning.
John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington, True Crime) brings neglected 16-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond, Ray) to live with him in the United States. Muhammad, who’s wife has filed a restraining order to keep him away from their children, has a lot of anger. At first he comes across as a man who just resents the loss of his family, but really it is so much deeper than that.
He teaches Malvo, who looks to him as a father figure, his beliefs against society and mankind. He teaches him to drive. To shoot. To kill.
Their dynamic alone could easily make for a compelling drama, but it is Malvo’s evolution into a killer that is so particularly striking. Richmond gives a chilling and authentic performance, with all the tenderness of youth, and all the brutality that resides in the darkest corners of the mind. The shifts in his character are so subtle that the depth of his instability is not fully realized at first and the audience is even made to wonder if Malvo was always like this or if he was molded into this fashion.
The film brings to question a concept of the human condition: Are killers born or made? Is it nature or nurture? Moors does not set out to answer these questions, but he does ensure that they are asked and that the possibilities are explore in there most realistic ways. The real-life Muhammad was executed in 2009, and Malvo remains in prison, having pleaded guilty by insanity at his trial. As a result, Moors was forced to rely on existing testimony and a gentle understanding of humanity to create this starkly unsettling narrative.
Of course Blue Caprice is not a perfect film and is at times unevenly paced, but overall it is hauntingly shot and filled with strong performances. Washington holds his own as a man with a grudge against the world and as Muhammad’s old friend Ray Tim Blake Nelson (The Thin Red Line), as always, gives an easy and natural performance.
It is Richmond, however, who captivates the audience. Present in nearly every scene and fully committed to each and every one of them, he draws you in and keeps you with him in this dark, quiet drama. It is his story, and he tells it in a way that is certainly unforgettable.
The single-disc DVD offers three special features, including a director commentary and official trailer. There is also a press conference from The Deauville Film Festival and a behind the scenes featurette. Note, however, that the behind the scenes featurette is exactly that: Footage from behind the scenes. There are no interviews, which makes for relatively slow watching. Those interested in watching the mechanics behind the construction of each scene will find it interesting and the featurette is certainly preferable to no features at all on the DVD for a film such as this one.
IFC is certainly fond of provocative stories. It enjoys the promotion of movies that push the limits on both structural and emotional levels. It’s aim is to disarm, shock, and even break your heart. Surely IFC has found all of these qualities and more in the desperate, psychologically rich and borderline poetic Blue Caprice.