leave a comment --Jason Buchanan
A compelling depiction of psychological decline, Alexandre Moors’ <I>Blue Caprice</I> favors slow-burn drama over true-crime sensationalism as it explores how the symbiotic relationship between an angry father and an abandoned youth led to a series of shootings dubbed the Beltway sniper attacks by the media. Though the momentum occasionally lags, a simmering performance by Isaiah Washington keeps us riveted as Ronnie Porto’s emotionally textured screenplay slowly reveals how the ersatz father figure manipulated a desperate teen into committing a series of shootings that terrorized residents of Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia in October of 2002, resulting in ten deaths and three serious injuries.<P><P>
The story begins in Antigua, where suicidal 17-year-old Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond) wades deep into the Caribbean Sea after being abandoned by his mother. Rescued by American tourist John Allen Muhammad (Washington), who’s vacationing there with his three young children, Malvo accepts the man’s invitation to start a new life in America. Once in Tacoma, WA, the pair cross paths with Muhammad’s old friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), who discovers that young Malvo is a natural with a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle during an impromptu shooting session in the woods. Meanwhile, as Malvo begins to acclimate to his new life, Muhammad grows increasingly bitter over his contentious relationship with his strong-willed ex-wife, who has filed a restraining order that prevents him from contacting his children. Constantly referring to Malvo as his “son”, the malevolent father figure subjects the displaced teen to a bizarre series of loyalty tests that crescendo in bloodshed. When the authorities fail to solve a pair of murders committed by Malvo, the young killer and his mentor grow empowered, deciding that the best way to shake up the system is to commit a series of random shootings that will inspire the displaced in other cities to follow suit.<P><P>
All too often, it feels as if true-crime stories are used by filmmakers to either explore the romantic life of an outlaw or to exploit the details that were too sordid for the mainstream media. In <I>Blue Caprice</I>, first-time screenwriter Porto makes a genuine attempt to examine how the mutually beneficial relationship between two desperate men at different stages of their lives slowly turned toxic. When we first meet Muhammad, he looks like any other loving father. In rescuing Malvo from certain death, he displays a sense of paternal altruism that only seems to be reinforced when he invites the young man back to the U.S. Once they’re on Muhammad’s native soil, however, the screenplay begins to drop subtle hints that we, much like Malvo, have been deceived. Porto isn’t as interested in offering a detailed glimpse into Muhammad’s turbulent background as he is in allowing the man’s actions to speak for themselves, and in doing so he gives Washington the tools to turn in a deeply unsettling performance. We instinctively tense up every time he appears onscreen, and for good reason: This is a calculating, manipulative man on the precipice of something unthinkable, and even more terrifying, he’s not only fully aware that he’s creating a monster, but longs to create legions of them. His unnerving performance perfectly complements Porto’s impressionistic screenplay, and offers a satisfying contrast to Richmond’s appropriately hollow turn as Malvo. Nelson, meanwhile, is sturdy as ever as Ray, the loyal friend who fails recognize the danger signs while attempting to help a pal in need.<P><P>
<I>Blue Caprice</I> certainly isn’t for all tastes -- Porto’s deliberately abstract approach will frustrate the detail-oriented, and Moors’ restrained direction will bore exploitation fans -- but for those of us who still possess a healthy attention span and a curiosity about what makes the criminal mind tick, it’s a sober, fascinating character study and a strong feature debut from two talented young storytellers.