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"Blue Caprice" Denies the Audience Some Satisfaction Review

The devastating and senseless Washington D.C. sniper killings shocked the nation in 2002. 13 innocent people were randomly murdered while doing mundane tasks like pumping gas into their cars or after buy groceries at the store. This horrific massacre serves as the basis for the film Blue Caprice. But for Alexandre Moors debut feature, he chooses to focus not on the killings themselves but on the father and son duo who perpetrated them.

Except that they are not actually father and son. Lee Boy Malvo (Tequan Richmond) is a wayward teen in Antigua, abandoned by his mother and searching for someone he can look up to or believe in. He finds that in John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington), a father who has lost custody of his children in his divorce and is desperate to reclaim them while also filling in their void. John takes Lee to America, touting him as his son, raising him as his own. Some who know John are quick to dismiss Lee as his real son, but the stronger their bond grows, the more undeniable their connection is.

John, though, is deeply unstable and begins to self-righteously seek out his own form of justice for what was done against him. He trains Lee to be his child soldier, a killer, the sniper. He puts him through rigorous trials that test him mentally as well as physically. And poor Lee, trapped in this relationship, pushes himself to succeed. Violence soon becomes second nature to him as John encourages him to kill people at random, all the while hunting down John’s children whom his ex-wife has taken away to somewhere in the D.C. area.

The film’s scope shies away from the actual, brutal murders in D.C. Stock footage and a last-minute montage piece together some of those devastating attacks, but Blue Caprice tries to remain more cerebral, focused on the mental state of these two men. Moors does a superb job of showing us how John manipulates Lee into losing his humanity. Without breaking it down into a step-by-step process, we see how various moments influence Lee’s growth (devolution?) into a killer.

But what we fail to get with Blue Caprice is a true sense of fear. When Lee mindlessly shoots a girl at John’s behest, we should be disturbed (especially since the victim wasn’t John’s real target). As the targets move on from the specific to the opportunistic, it should be inherently more frightening, a this could happen to anyone, anywhere vibe. Yet we fail to get that true terror as we watch the film.

Unlike 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, which instilled true unease in the audience, Blue Caprice only manages to tap into the menace within John. He’s a frightening character, aptly portrayed by Washington, who manages to get the audience to like him (at first, at least) even though he is deeply unlikable (he was the “ultimate loser” as Washington says). But that menace in John, which he in turn instills in Lee, does not translate to the film’s tone. This should be a film that haunts you afterwards, has you distrusting every person you see around you (and every blue Caprice you see driving around). Instead you are left feeling hollow, wanting more. We learn the how of the killings but we never get a true sense of the why.

The only really devastating thing about the film, though, is Tequan Richmond’s performance. His Lee skulks about with resting bored face, but we can see that inside he is thinking, contemplating, debating. Slowly these thoughts begin to manifest themselves in the violence that he’s encouraged to perpetrate, yet we feel sorry for him and this monster he’s become. And in the final scene, which has Lee at his lowest point, we see that wayward child that he was at the beginning emerge once more (if only a little). That haunting moment will be the only real takeaway from the film.

"Blue Caprice" opens September 13, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Written by R.F.I. Porto. Starring Isaiah Washington, Joey Lauren Adams, Tequan Richmond, Tim Blake Nelson.

Sep
14
2013
John Keith • Staff Writer

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