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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.
Arguably Isaiah Washington's best work. Thought provoking and on point. Everyone touched by violence should see this film to see how murderers are made. This film is not meant to be sympathetic to the killers but rather to start a dialog on how killers are made and what we can do to help people understand. It also highlights the issue of mental illness in our society and how we don't do enough, especially for our vets to address this problem. The director and cinematography should be applauded for this effort. Some of the best camera work I've seen in years coupled with an excellent script and vision by the director. For those who are looking for a sympathetic view for the victims, this is not that film. Yes, we should never forget the victims of these horrific crimes, but that's not what this film is about. It's about reaching those people who don't understand that sometimes killers are products of their circumstances and/or environment. A must see.
Ominous and tense throughout, "Blue Caprice" is a slow burn that builds
to an unsettling boil, leaving you with a known outcome that's hard to
digest. Director Alexandre Moors crafts a deceptively eerie depiction
of Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, and to its credit, the movie
never pretends to have the answer. Moors stunning debut captures a
horrific and confining tone of the tragic three weeks in October of
2002, when ten people were assassinated in a random series of attacks
spanning across Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. "Blue Caprice"
features two fantastic performances from Isaiah Washington and Tequan
Richmond portraying the Beltway Snipers, John Allen Muhammad and Lee
The movie begins on the Caribbean Island of Antigua, where life is not easy for a young Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond), who is left to fend for himself after his mother abandons him once again. Muhammad spots Lee who appears as if he is drowning, rescues him, and becomes an adoptive father figure. Moors uses Lee Malvo as the audience's entry point into Muhammad's world, and John's back story comes only in pieces. However, it doesn't take much to surmise that Muhammad is trouble.
Flash forward a few months, and Muhammad has successfully smuggled Malvo into the United States, returning to Washington, where they stay with John's old friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). When Ray introduces Malvo to his gun collection to blow off steam, both men recognize the raw talent Lee possesses. Muhammad then begins to mold Malvo into a mindless assassin, eliminating any shred morality that may still lie within. This bond between the two progressively develops into a powerful, warped father-son style relationship. As the blind loyalty grows, we learn of John's grandiose scheme to create widespread mayhem and terror, starting with random killings following no discernible pattern.
Moors directorial approach is consistent throughout, using restraint and creating distance from the actual assassination scenes. For example, he presents the reactions of Malvo shooting his weapon, rather than what is happening at the other end of the gun. A victim is only seen briefly as their body falls to the ground, while the Caprice slowly glides away.
Moors creates a disturbing portrait of two ruthless men in free fall, and Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond both do outstanding work here. Washington has the extraordinarily difficult task of methodically revealing John's inner rage, resentments, and hatred that simmers just beneath his calm exterior. He's both ferociously charismatic as well as deeply unsettling. Even more so impressive is the performance of Tequan Richmond, who must convey emotions, or lack thereof, in a character who rarely speaks of feelings at all. It's the sense of not knowing that makes his marvelous performance so chilling. The film owes a lot to its excellent cast, as well as the cinematography, and a sharp, minimalistic screenplay by R.F.I. Porto.
What makes the film so exceptional is that it doesn't attempt to recreate, and instead reconstructs the story from the inside out. This was a distorted, horrific mission carried out through manipulation and the escalation of evil. "Blue Caprice" generates an innermost sense of riding in the backseat with these two, only to leave you with introspection and muddled thoughts that linger long after the viewing.
Those who demand easy answers in movies and clear cut motives from its
characters will likely find Blue Caprice an unfulfilling and distant
character study, one which centers on the Beltway Sniper attacks that
left Washington paralyzed for three weeks in 2002. The brilliance of
director Alexandre Moors feature debut, in addition to quietly powerful
performances from its two main leads, is that it offers no definite
answers as to why this massacre transpired. True to life, speculation
as to motive ranges from plans to divert attention from the planned
murder of one of the assailant's ex wife, revenge against the U.S.
government, terrorist ties and general anarchy. Discovering what
ultimately drives these monsters is unimportant in the context of this
film, but rather it's the troubling and empty journey these men take
down the path of evil that is so compelling.
Taking on the notorious gunmen John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo are Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond and both deliver nuanced and disturbing performances but with varying approaches. We witness a differing speed at which these two finally become the savages which made global headlines these are individuals with which we both see deeply into but at the same time know nothing about. The way these actors and director are able to make enigmas out of its antagonists without resorting to painting them as faceless monsters is an extraordinary feat.
Channelling Idris Elba in the best ways, Washington does Oscar level work as a broken man whose anger and disillusionment manifests in the worst possible way. Between his work on Grey's Anatomy and supporting work in some higher profile fare, he has never really been given the chance to stretch his dramatic legs and he shows how capable he can be when given the spotlight. He plays off young Tequan Richmond with aplomb, with the promising North Carolina native truly coming into his character in the final act after long sequences of shyness and inwardly directed sadness. Among the most disquieting scenes comes when John teaches Lee how to drive, an act between father and son that is considered to be one of the most important bonding experiences of growing up. In knowing what is to come, it takes on a whole new (and ultimately very disturbing) meaning.
Aside from inherently being a taut and troubling scenario the way the tension and narrative drive is brought to the forefront is also noteworthy especially when the outcome is so widely known. When we first meet with Malvo (and to a lesser extent Muhammad) we see them as damaged but salvageable individuals those given an unfair stab at life but who could display redemptive qualities if given the chance. As we see Malvo fall further and further under the manipulative spell of his surrogate father, and who in turn finds fuel in his adoptive son, it's hard to watch not simply because of their actions but where we know this is all headed. In wanting so much for these lost souls to find an honest meaning in life and see them both missing and avoiding them, the dread and tension ratchets up organically and with an impact you won't soon shake.
Moors also makes the sound decision never to distort or falsely heighten the actual acts of the shootings. Seeing a man in the throws of death in a pool of blood at the base of a gas pump is powerful enough without seeing these two perpetrate every single act. So to does the choice to not magnify the scope of the crimes with fictionalized getaways or close calls in their titular vehicle. The barrel of a gun sticking out of a trunk and an off screen shot does more than enough in the ugly world we're introduced to in Blue Caprice. There are certainly moments of graphic violence interspersed throughout but they're handled in a brief and ugly manner that serves to showcase the emptiness of it all.
Based on the subject matter and the recent horrific gun based acts that have rocked America as of late, Blue Caprice will no doubt bring up the hot button topic of gun control, with some likely looking at the film as a call for help and others as pro liberal pandering meant to take a past tragedy and use it as propaganda. In both instances they would be not only wrong but missing the point of this drama, or rather the pointlessness of these men's actions. Could this act have been avoided with tighter gun laws? Likely. But Blue Caprice has no such pretensions and simply paints a disturbing portrait of men on the edge of reality.
Both as a showcase for the skill of the filmmakers and actors and an examination of the flourishing emotional void this duo carries with them every day, Blue Caprice succeeds and does so in manner that will leave you exhausted and troubled. In having so much to hate on screen there is so much to love about this confident inaugural feature, one which worrisomely shows that the loss of one's humanity can begin with a single act.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Who remembers the horrific Beltway sniper shootings which left 10 dead
and 3 seriously wounded in the Washington, D.C. area in 2002? I
remember a friend of mine who lived in Maryland telling me how he was
afraid to leave his house at the time. Was it really necessary to bring
back up all the horrible memories? The American-based, French director,
Alexandre Moors certainly thought so.
Moors' approach is to explore the relationship between the two killers, the adult John Allen Muhammed and his teenage partner in crime, Lee Boyd Malvo, avoiding any sensationalistic aspects of the shooting spree. That's a good thing, because what is the point of rehashing such tragic events that brought so much grief to the families of the innocent victims? Moors approach is psychological. But is there enough meat to the story to keep us interested and perhaps gain insight into what drove these psychopaths, to do what they did?
In Moors' narrative, Malvo is abandoned by his mother in Antigua where Muhammed just happens to be vacationing with his young daughters. Muhammed saves Malvo from drowning in the ocean and they quickly bond. The only problem is that Muhammed never saved Malvo and it was both the teenager and his mother who met Muhammed and she left him in his care. So the angle that Malvo bonded with Muhammed because he owed him his life, does not hold any weight.
After Muhammed brings Malvo back with him to the United States, we basically figure out what motivates Muhammed in about a half hour time. Most of those involved in law enforcement will tell you that the most dangerous type of criminal is the one who commits crimes of domestic violence. Indeed, it's Muhammed's loss of his children in a custody battle, that leads him to become extremely bitter and later paranoid. Finally, in Muhammed's deranged mind, it's the 'system' that is to blame; so taking lives methodically (and not randomly as the psycho killer puts it) is the name of the game. That's really all you have to know what Muhammed's motivations were and Moors has his anti-hero express those sentiments throughout the rest of the film.
Malvo on the other hand comes off as an empty vessel; a follower who utters few words. Muhammed boasts that "I've created a monster", referring to his young charge, who he now dubs his "son". It's not surprising this zombie-like kid would do the older man's biddingwhen they're living with Muhammed's old Army buddy, Ray, a rabid gun nut, Malvo gains access to an entire arsenal of weaponry. Tutored on violent video games and actual target practice, Malvo becomes a crack marksman and later does the paranoid killer's bidding. There's one semi-violent scene where Muhammed ties Malvo to a tree in the forest and abandons him there, in an act of 'tough love'expecting the teenager to toughen up, so he's ready to enthusiastically become a cold-blooded sniper.
Moors' treatment of the Beltway snipers is antiseptic. We never learn who the victims were nor experience the anguish of the families. Instead, 'Blue Caprice' is a beautifully shot, 'art' film. Moors seeks to illustrate what the concept of 'the banality of evil' is all about; but it's a slow tour through the wasteland. Ultimately, the killers' machinations are mundaneand inconsequential. Moors deprives his audience of the satisfaction as to how Muhammed and Malvo were captured and processed by the authorities (a routine police patrol check in a parking lot only suggests that this is where M&M reached the end of the line). And the most interesting information about the man-boy relationship is left out entirely: the assertion after Malvo's conviction, that he was sexually abused by the older man (see the Musical 'Thrill Me', which chronicles the gay affair between the two 1920s thrill killers, "Leopold and Loeb"the author there was not afraid to explore the homosexual relationship between the two men).
Alexandre Moors is not without talentusually with many of these neophyte filmmakers, it's in the realm of technical wizardly, as opposed to acumen with the script. Yes, 'Blue Caprice' has some mighty impressive cinematography and the two principals who play the killers, Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond, are completely believable as the brutal Muhammed and stone-cold Malvo.
In the end, the best word to describe Moors' examination of the Beltway snipers, is opaque. In perhaps better hands, this could have been a gripping crime story. But something also tells me that this was a story that does not really lend itself to good drama. 'Blue Caprice' is one such example that is better left to the history books than to the silver screen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Blue Caprice has some notable and powerful scenes. Obviously the scenes
with victims being shot is hard to watch, will turn your stomach and
are very well shot. The film avoids being exploitative and yet at times
you'll wonder if the film makers are trying to excuse and demonstrate
why these men (especially the young boy) ended up doing what they did.
Then again I struggled to really understand the point of Blue Caprice
and why it was made at all. I don't know how I would have changed the
film because its not that I wanted to see them commit the violence and
yet I think the subsequent investigation and the desperate plight of
law enforcement to stop these two would have made a more captivating
film then watching a man and an impressionable boy, both of whom are
clearly deranged. I just struggled to figure out what the film makers
were trying to do with the story, the characters etc. I didn't find any
of it overly interesting the pacing was excruciating at times. The
performances of everyone in the film weren't strong enough to carry the
movie or make it riveting. It needed better editing, a stronger cast,
and a completely different screenplay to be effective. Unfortunately
what we are left with is a bit of a let down.
Isaiah Washington has struggled to find his place since leaving Grey's Anatomy. I've never seen him as a leading actor and I don't find him particularly good in any role so this was simply too big for him to take on. He isn't believable or even interesting trying to play this supposedly charismatic sociopath. We don't understand him, and we don't even understand his motives and he really drops the ball and gives a rather ho-hum performance unfortunately. His young counterpart who becomes enamoured with this father figure is played by Tequan Richmond. Richmond tries very hard and he's trying to capture this quiet loner who has had a rough childhood but he takes it too far and too much obscure because he seems boring and just not what the role could have been. A supporting cast is basically wasted between Joey Lauren Adams (I'm still trying to figure out why they even had her in the film) and Tim Blake Nelson who is a good actor but completely underused in this particular cast.
I understand this is a hard story to tell and capture. That doesn't mean it couldn't have been done properly. Why would you get a director with little experience (this in fact Alexandre Moors first feature length film) and then a cast that is Sunday Night movie quality at best. It just seems this idea should have been brilliant and has Oscar quality idea all over it but a sincere lack of experience and quality makes this one an unfortunate dud. You really watch the film and feel the build up and you're waiting for something significant and powerful to happen and while the crime itself is of course shocking, the film ultimately lets you down and leaves you feeling empty. There are too many high quality "based on true story" films out there to give this time. 5.5/10
A well shot, moodily scored and impressively acted indie from last
year, Blue Caprice is also a frustratingly cold film that in the end
misses the mark in such a way that you just can't help but wish you
were more affected by a story that is all different types of sad and
horrific in equal measure.
Alexandre Moors film looks to delve into the events leading up to the tragic 2002 Beltway Sniper shootings around the USA that led to the deaths of 10 innocent civilians at the hands of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo. It must be noted that these events Moors displays in the film are largely dramatizations as facts concerning the two men remain sadly blurred. With the blurring of these facts and fictions the films growth as a narrative does suffer as what we are presented with is a strangely generic telling of a true story that is anything but. While moments in the film are at times extremely shocking and confronting they're merely short bursts of memorable material that quickly dissipates back to slow moving and uninvolving instances these moments of quality are made increasingly more annoying due to the films many other affective sums not adding up to a satisfying whole.
Seasoned actor Isaiah Washington has rarely, if ever, been better than he is here in a role that must of required quite a lot of mental and emotional stress on his behalf. The character of John is a role that features much pent up rage and at times evil that Washington cleverly plays to and is backed up by a very assured performance from young actor Tequan Richmond as his surrogate son Lee. Lee is a boy whose lot in life has left him scarily low choices to make and Richmond does a fine job at displaying this sad boy and also excels at the moments where a boy becomes more than that and becomes a monster. Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson's affective score must also be commended here as a haunting accompanying piece to a growing terror.
A well-made movie yet undeniably cold and at times to distant for its own good Blue Caprice is an interesting look into an horrific situation that you get the feeling will one day be turned into a much bigger and affecting big screen treatment.
3 combat handbooks out of 5
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The acting here is excellent, but the tale of the bonding of the two
D.C. Snipers can be quite cold and bleak. If you're expecting to see a
police action thriller depicting these mass killings, in 2002, you'll
probably be disappointed. In the beginning and end of the movie, you're
shown actual news footage of the sniper attacks along with the
emotional and frenzied 911 calls placed by citizens who have witnessed
the crimes. However, the main focus of the film is on the bonding and
history of the two snipers, John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo.
Isaiah Washington is chillingly believable as the deranged Muhammed, and Tequan Richmond is equally superb in his role as the teen Lee Boyd Malvo. The movie begins as Lee's mother is leaving him again, on the island of Antigua, with no food or money claiming she must go find some work. When he tries to drown himself, he is saved by John, who apparently has illegally taken his three children to the island, after losing custody in a bitter divorce case with his ex-wife. John takes Lee in and quickly becomes a father figure to him. With Svengali-like techniques, as well as some abusive ones, he gets Lee to the point where he's willing to do anything for him, including murder.
You can see that John has "checked out" from society and in his derangement is already talking about multiple and insane plans to kill people. He's already formed some type of plan in his mind to slaughter random people to keep the police guessing, and he gives Lee a sniper's manual to read and digest. They go to stay with John's Army buddy Ray and his wife Jamie, in Tacoma, Washington. They're very ably portrayed by Tim Blake Nelson and Joey Lauren Adams. Together Ray and John teach Lee how to shoot a gun, calling him a "natural".
Although the movie does depict two cold blooded murders in the Tacoma area that Lee carries out at the urging of John, it omits many others they carried out as they crossed the country to carry out their sniper attacks in the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. Neither John nor Lee show one iota of remorse for their deeds or feelings for their victims, which can be extremely grim and chilling.
Making their major motion picture debuts here are director Alexandre Moors and screenplay writer R.F.I. Porto, whom I thought showed promise despite the difficulty in watching this film because of its' subject matter.
The movie is certainly not for everyone but for those who can handle the bleakness and coldness, it does, I thought, present an intimate look of how the D.C. Snipers came together and committed their atrocities.
In 2002, the Washington DC area was paralyzed by sniper shootings. John
Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) was in a relationship with Lee Boyd
Malvo (Tequan Richmond)'s mother and became his father figure. John
brings Lee with him to America and indoctrinates him. John is bitter at
the being declared unfit to be a father. He is angry and paranoid. He
convinces Lee to murder and turns the blue Chevy Caprice into a killing
machine. He discovers his wife and children hiding in Maryland, but
it's about more than them by then.
It's a slow meditative movie. It spends most of its time with the quiet young Lee under the unceasing domination of John. It spends little time with the DC killings. It's not altogether successful. There is no tension and it provides no great insights into either personality. It's the first full-length feature for Alexandre Moors and he shows a competence with the camera. However the movie is too slow and too quiet. I'm not sure he achieves anything more than an artsy film about two of the most enigmatic mass murderers.
There are Parts of this Indie Movie that are Extremely Well Done. There
is the Cinematography that is Stunning at Times, the Performances are
All Very Good, and there is an Ominous, Chilling, Creepiness that
Permeates the Picture.
But the Montage is Awful. The Overall Feeling that the Viewer is left with is Frustrating and Unsatisfying. it Seems that the Filmmakers Opted for Restraint and Offered a Cold and Overly Calculated Movie and it tries so Hard to be Unconventional and Non-Hollywood that They Forgot that this is a Movie.
It is Pieced Together with a Shaggy Assemblance of Disjointed Drama that Scene for Scene is OK but a Film is a Combination of Scenes that are Put Together to Create Seamless Storytelling and this Fails Monumentally on that Level, Especially in the Final Act.
The Pieces in this Misassembled Mess are on their own Remarkable and it is Obvious that there is Talent in this Creation, but all of that is Wasted as the Finished Film just leaves too much to be Desired and as Enlightened Entertainment or Even a Character Study the Completed Film Falls Apart and that is Inexcusable.
Overall, it Cannot be Recommended as a Film that is Worthy of its Subject Matter or as a Film as Completed. Because the Movie just can't Escape the Feeling that it is Incomplete and Ill Fitting.
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