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Review: 'Blue Caprice' - The Valor in Wrong-doing

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by Andre Seewood
September 30, 2013 10:09 AM
5 Comments
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Photo Credit: Robert Blake

The film BLUE CAPRICE by Alexandre Moors plays itself out like a slow motion descent into madness as it recounts the 2002 real life events of the Beltway Snipers that so gripped the nation in terror and panic.  Two males, John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and 16 year old Antigua immigrant Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond) are both severely afflicted by the emotional and physical abandonment of the women in their lives.  For Muhammad, he has lost his wife and children in a bitter divorce and custody battle.  For Malvo, he is abandoned by his mother in a scene as cold and detached as it is heartbreaking and enigmatic.

These two “wounded” men join forces to exact revenge upon the society that has no place for them and that they have summarily rejected.

The blue Caprice, itself, the car that was used to carry the killers on their cross country rampage is filmed solitarily in the lanes of the freeways it travels upon like a black windowed Hearst that spreads death where ever it veers as frantic 911 calls can be heard on the soundtrack reporting the chaos and mayhem caused by the two passengers inside.  It is easily one of the most unnerving sequences of the film, but there’s more…

“Even if we lose, we still win.”

BLUE CAPRICE strikes us with the notion of the inextinguishable valor of wrong-doing; it challenges us with the subversive idea that the wrongness of a violent act has its greatest and most enduring power in the impression it leaves upon the consciousness and the culture of the law-abiding- irrespective of the individual(s) who committed the action.  That is to say, the violent act of wrong-doing, whether it is random murders from a car, mass shootings, and bombings in public places, penetrates the boundaries of normality and pushes the law-abiding citizenry further and further back upon themselves.

And as the boundaries of normality (or what is taken for normal) shrink, it creates more and more of those who are abandoned by or alienated from society- increasing exponentially their rejection of society and their potential for mass violence.    

The paradox at the center of BLUE CAPRICE is that we might all, but for the grace of God, have such capricious hearts and we could be but one closed door, one unreturned phone call, one circumstance of emotional and physical abandonment from slipping down this dark and bloody road to nowhere.  To watch BLUE CAPRICE is to study acts of wrong-doing as a means of truly comprehending the power and the value of the absence of acts of right-doing.  It’s not so much what’s in the film that is disturbing, but what’s not in the film that makes one deeply consider the terrible actions on screen.

There are many visual tropes of aimlessness within the film that capture the nihilistic essence of the characters and their vacant journey to nothingness.  Images of the two men in a self-styled father/son, and later, creator/monster relationship as they run together in the woods- unable to escape their inevitable trajectory toward tragedy, murder and infamy.  In fact one could go so far to say that there is even a certain “pointlessness” to many scenes within the film and it is this “pointlessness/aimlessness” an uncertain wandering that director Alexandre Moors captures with such self-assuredness the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the cinema since Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s famed trilogy: The Adventure-1960, The Night-1961, and The Eclipse-1962.

The pointlessness is the point; the aimlessness is the target; the uncertain wandering is the reality and the nightmare that carries the characters deeper into the delusion from which there is no escape.  Like many of the greatest stories of Nihilism ever filmed (e.g. WHITE HEAT-1949, TAXI DRIVER- 1976, SCARFACE-1983, CITY OF GOD-2002, and THE ASSASSINATION OF RICHARD NIXON-2004) these Nihilist parables begin at the point where true love ends.  Whether by fate or circumstance, love is ripped away and nihilism, the hatred of everything and anything, takes hold and makes its victims either go out in a blaze of glory or shrink away in prison cells.   If there’s more hate in the world, perhaps it is because there’s less love in the world to go around.

At the level of performance Moors pulls the best out of Isaiah Washington for a truly idiosyncratic performance full of a charm and reasoned façade that deflects from the deep misogynistic hatred and insanity that is building from the moment when we see him giving candy to his children to moment when we see him shooting a gun and telling a friend that he is,” thinking.”  This is not the characteristic bellicose and threatening portrayal of a nihilist that we have seen in the previously mentioned films that have nihilistic characters or that we would expect from the bogeyman-like media persona of the real John Allen Muhammad.  This is a portrait of insanity by degrees not by volume.

“The masculine archetype of the nihilist is almost always complimented by a pragmatist…  For Tony Montana [in SCARFACE] it was the friend he killed in a jealous rage, Manny Rivera (Steven Bauer).  These pragmatists, so well schooled in the art of interdependence, mercy, trust, loyalty and calculated thinking, are often betrayed by their own virtue.” (175, Screenwriting Into Film)  The pragmatist compliment to John Allen Muhammad was Lee Boyd Malvo who, as performed by Tequan Richmond convincingly reveals the gullibility and the intuitive ability of an abandoned child who gravitates inevitably towards a father figure who will lead him to ruin.   His natural ability to shoot with uncanny accuracy and his loyalty to Muhammad would ultimately be his undoing. 

If BLUE CAPRICE does not end in the customary “blaze of glory” as most all cinematic portraits of nihilists do it is only because Malvo, the pragmatist compliment to the nihilistic Muhammad was not killed by Muhammad himself or the police.  The lack of a “blaze of glory” finale both to the film and the real life events of the Beltway Snipers enhances the film’s enigmatic tone.  What was it all for really?  Why?  No answer is sufficient; no answer would satisfy.   

“Do you love me?  Then I need you to do something for me.”

It is titillating for some and shocking for others to suggest that the self-styled father/son relationship between Muhammad and Malvo appears as an inversion of well known Christian tenets.  The concept of Christ doing his Father God’s Will for the salvation of Mankind is inverted in BLUE CAPRICE in that a pretend father is asking his pretend son to prove his love for him by randomly killing Mankind.  Indeed, certain scenes in the film, without any self-consciousness on the part of the director, appear as direct Biblical inversions.  

For example, when Muhammad ties Malvo’s hands and feet and binds him to a tree in the woods, leaving him there in the night throughout a rainstorm.  Depending on one’s religious knowledge and faith the abandonment in the forest scene plays like an inversion of the image of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane asking,” My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done,” and yet knowing that His hands were “tied”.  Such interpretations, however shocking, can only enrich the images in BLUE CAPRICE with a sense of profound tragedy and quasi-religious predestination (considering that we already know the outcome of the two men in real life).

These trials and tests visited upon Malvo by Muhammad are not practiced to lift the spirit and strengthen the will, but instead to break his spirit and bend his will to the bidding of the pretend father; the demi-father so to speak.   If one of the most shocking aspects of the discovery of the Beltway Snipers in real life for the African-American community was the fact that Muhammad and Malvo were Black, then BLUE CAPRICE shows us how easy it is for anyone of any race to be rejected by those that are supposed to love them and how easy it is to be alienated by a society that ignores those who don’t possess the material trappings of normality.

All this is to say in the least that BLUE CAPRICE is an interesting film.  One of the most interesting Black films to come out in years because it explores uncharted territory and it is the willingness to explore such psychologically aberrant territory that makes the film so special- indeed a classic like the car of the title- because no one else should dare, but if only no one else in real life would try.


Andre Seewood is the author of SLAVE CINEMA: The Crisis of the African-American in Film. Pick up a copy of the book via Amazon.com HERE.

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5 Comments

  • CareyCarey | September 30, 2013 10:42 PMReply

    Andre, you've outdone yourself this time. You didn't tell us the story of the Beltway Snipers (we all know that story) but with this review you've delved into the complexities of human nature.

    While I was reading I found myself nodding my head in agreement, pausing and reflecting on your superbly written insight - and wanting more. More came my way in your analogies to Christian tenets and your take on nihilism/pointlessness/aimlessness and your references to other great stories with Nihilism at their core.

    Yep, although I've said you did a wonderful job writing and monitoring your "Why White Folks Don't Like Black Movies" post, you killed this one.

    ps: Many believe movies are much more than entertainment. This post gives breath and speaks volumes to that belief.

  • Truer Than Thou | September 30, 2013 9:30 PMReply

    I'd have to agree AO and AV. While watching, I thought a few times "I wish this didn't take place in real life and instead was just a powerful fiction story. They did a great job, I wanted it to be a fiction story even more.... #imaginativepioneering...

  • Marlon Wallace | September 30, 2013 9:08 PMReply

    The reviewer refers to Isaiah Washington's character as "Muhammad" when I don't believe that he or any one in the film refer to him as anything other than "John". The fact that John was a member of the Nation of Islam never factors into this film and this a large chunk of this man's motives and beliefs are not explored.

    The reviewer writes, "These two 'wounded' men join forces to exact revenge upon the society that has no place for them and that they have summarily rejected." The society that has rejected John is not depicted here. We see the society that has no place for Lee Malvo but not for John. The story is told from Malvo's point-of-view and thus a lot of John's motives is left up in the air.

  • Accidental Visitor | September 30, 2013 5:42 PMReply

    Agree with AO below. I would not have wanted the film to be done any differently after seeing the movie. Some wil be disappointed in not seeing a lot of time devoted to the killing spree or not getting more of a heightened climax in which the "protagonists" up to that point were beginning to feel more of the squeeze as the manhunt for them spread wider. Those moments may have been more fitting for another kind of movie regarding this incident but they would have been out of place in Moors' work. Moors was more interested in interpreting what led to the killing spree rather than the dreadful spectacle itself.

    Pretty impressive movie and like the reviewer hinted at in his writeup I too had a moment or while watching in which I stopped to think that Ive never quite seen this type of film with black leads. I've never seen black characters (although based on real life people) like that before on the big screen.

  • ao | September 30, 2013 4:58 PMReply

    An incredible film. I keep thinking, "Whatever happens to a dream deferred?". Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond nailed their characters. So much so, it was more like spying on on the real people in some kind of warped reality series. When award season comes around, if these two aren't on the list, there is no fairness. Their portrayals are absolutely haunting.

    I can't imagine this story being told any other way. If you love quality film, don't miss it. It is superb.

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