In 2002, the Washington, DC area was rocked by a series of sniper shootings. Alexandre Moors examines the events leading up to the killings, focusing on the unorthodox relationship between John Allen Muhammad and teenager Lee Boyd Malvo in Blue Caprice, an unfortunately lifeless, plodding film that somehow manages to turn a riveting situation into a dull character study that fails even on that level.
Our story begins in the Caribbean, where John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) is vacationing with his three kids. Well, vacationing is a strong word, as apparently he's absconded with them from their mother, but more importantly this is where he runs into the young, lonely Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), who's just passing time after his mother's ditched him. Muhammad strikes up a paternal friendship with the boy and winds up bringing him to the United States, passing him off as his son.
The duo, now sans the children, wind up in Muhammad's old stomping grounds of Washington state, where they stay with John's old friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). While in Washington, Muhammad teaches his charge about life; specifically, how much it stinks and how killing a few people might be a good idea to square things with the world.
We follow Muhammad and Malvo essentially through the eyes of the boy. We learn he's a good shot with a handgun or a rifle (a natural, according to Ray, who knows nothing of Muhammad's plans). We see that Muhammad is the strong male influence on Malvo that the latter has probably never had. We learn that the kid, although quiet, has a cold, violent streak within him.
One reason the movie didn't work for me is that it seems to be perpetually building to some grand crescendo. Since this is based on a true story - with many facts accurate, according to my memory - the endgame is knowable. But for as much time is spent on the relationship between Malvo and Muhammad, it's a superficial treatment. What really makes either tick? We don't truly know. Even though Muhammad spouts off frequently about bringing down the system and how his ex-wife is evil, we don't really see how that resentment leaps into full-blown psychosis. In other words, what the heck really motivates him to kill innocent people? Moors doesn't even seem to speculate.
When all is said and done, we don't really know any more about the deadly duo than we do when we first encounter them in the film. There's hardly any character development, and that's true of the secondary characters as well. To use the old axiom, there's no there there. There's nothing. Even the moments that should have one jumping out of one's seat - such as when Malvo pulls the trigger - are telegraphed so obviously that they lose most of their emotional impact.
This movie may be better received outside of the DC area. Most of the audience at this screening were in the area during the shootings, and the sentiment seemed to be one of apathy, sort of the opposite of what a tragedy like this should evoke. People who were not directly affected by the shootings may be more amenable to the short shrift given to the story development and glacial pacing.
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