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Film Review: Blue Caprice

"Director Moors' film Blue Caprice gives an in-depth character study that attempts to find some degree of understanding, not sympathy, for why these murders took place, the result is quite fascinating."

In October of 2003, the nation was gripped and the Washington, D.C., area terrorized by seemingly random acts of murder.
It’s hard to overstate how afraid people were. High-school football games were canceled. People were afraid to pump gas at service stations. The fear that anyone could be shot and killed at any time, doing anything, was real, and borne out by a string of victims.

That fear is exactly what John Allen Muhammad was trying to instill, and it worked. The shootings, we would learn eventually, were not random, but made to look that way for maximum effect. “Blue Caprice,” director and co-writer Alexandre Moors’ chilling debut feature looks at how Muhammad created such mayhem and how he destroyed a boy he called his “son” in the process.

Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond give gripping performances as Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the boy abandoned by his mother whom Muhammad took in while visiting Antigua. Muhammad takes Malvo to his home in Tacoma, Wash. But it’s not an act of mercy. Muhammad quickly begins to train Malvo, who seems to have a natural proficiency, in firing weapons. Meanwhile he stalks and makes threats against his ex-wife, who has left him and taken their children, obtaining a restraining order against him.

Quiet and deliberate, Muhammad seems to be following a carefully organized plan that exists only in his head. At one point he ties Malvo to a tree in the woods and leaves him, Malvo screaming for him to return. At other times he tries to trick school officials into giving him his ex-wife and kids’ contact information.
And then he buys a blue Caprice, the infamous sedan in which he bored a hole in the back, so that Malvo could shoot from inside without drawing notice, and they head for Washington, D.C. Although we see some of the shootings depicted graphically, the scariest segment involves the two just driving around in the car, then seeing victims lying on the ground. We don’t see the shots here, and we don’t need to. We see their effects, and it’s terrifying.

So are Muhammad’s rants. He talks to Malvo of how they will kill men, and when a pattern seems to emerge, then they’ll kill women, then children, then pregnant women, then grandmothers. The “we” is theoretical; Malvo would later claim Muhammad also fired on people, here Malvo fires all the shots.

Tim Blake Nelson is good as Muhammad’s friend, who helps Malvo learn to shoot but remains ignorant (perhaps willfully) of the bigger plan. Joey Lauren Adams is also good as his wife. But Washington and Richmond carry the film. Richmond’s Malvo is a sad case, a kid who needed rescuing, only to have a monster come to his aid. Richmond lets us see the confusion, along with the need to please.
Washington is terrific. Beneath that chilly control is a seething rage, seemingly aimed at his ex-wife but eventually at everyone. He is not a criminal genius. He’s just an angry man, insanely so, unhinged and willing to act on his feelings — or, worse, to make someone else act on them. Moors is neither showy nor exploitative in his telling of the story. He just lays out the details, making “Blue Caprice” not just a story of horror, but of tragedy. Blue Caprice is available now on Netflix. 

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