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Review: Beltway Sniper Drama 'Blue Caprice' Neither Condemns Nor Absolves (Opens Today)

by Zeba Blay
September 13, 2013 3:44 PM
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For three weeks in the October of 2002, John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old companion Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the country with a series of sniper attacks, carried out with lethal accuracy from a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice Sedan. Together, they murdered ten people and severely injured three others throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, leaving the rest of the country to ask the question that always arises in the wake of senseless shootings: Why? 

In Blue Caprice, director Alexandre Moors attempts to answer the question with a cinematic retelling loosely inspired by the real-life events.

Starring Isaiah Washington as John and Tequan Richmond as Lee, the film departs slightly from the story of the real Beltway Snipers, choosing instead to focus less on the actual events of the attacks and more on the bizarre father-son relationship between the two men. What results is a disturbing journey into the psyches of two killers. 

From its first moments the film departs from true events, beginning with Lee and John first meeting in Antigua, where the teen’s mother has abandoned him. John takes Lee in, begins calling him his son, and eventually brings him to the United States, where after a brief period of normalcy he begins to divulge his plans to bring down the government by killing at least five people a day over a month. 

Over the course of the film, Lee goes from being a reluctant participant to a willing and capable companion, shaped and molded into a killing machine, forced to change himself completely, forced to kill, all in a bid to gain the approval of the only father figure he knows. Washington turns in a chilling performance but it’s Richmond, perhaps best known for his time on the hit sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, who provides the emotional center of the piece. His is a performance that conveys the shades of grey needed in a story like this, which places a slightly sympathetic light on two condemned, real-life murderers.  

Using a fragmented, non-linear storytelling, Moors provides a film as quiet and methodical as the killers that it follows, opting a way from a more obvious, styilized approach.

That needling question of why, of course, never really gets answered. While that may be frustrating for viewers seeking a more direct telling of the Beltway Sniper shootings, the film’s ambiguous tone that neither condemns nor absolves the criminals may be the only explanation we’ll ever get. 

The script is penned by R.F.I. Porto, and the film co-produced by Ron Simons (SimonSays Entertainment), alongside Isen Robbins, Aimee Schoof, Stephen Tedeschi, Brian O’Carroll, Kim Jackson and Will Rowbotham.

Sundance Selects will release the R-rated drama this Friday, September 13th.

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  • D.C. Kirkwood | September 16, 2013 10:19 AMReply

    Excellent trailer. Good actors. Very disturbing subject. I hope this movie wins some awards as well. I think it's good to see African American stretching themselves and doing dramas like this. Isaiah is a great actor he and Andre Braugher have them ability to really hold your attention. Then have a quiet intestity that explodes at the right time and moment but it's not over the top. I hope this opens more doors for Isaiah's career and his young co-star.

  • murda | September 13, 2013 10:04 PMReply

    cute tagline

  • LLC | September 13, 2013 4:10 PMReply

    I agree with Jen; Why has this film not received more public attention and promotion? I wish this film would get half as much promotion as the awfully made, "Tyler Perry" films. Not only does this film deal with a very controversial topic circling American newspapers, legislation, and media, but the trailer promotes two very well given performances. It seems as though in recent years, films that have done exceptionally well at Sundance have been promoted more prominently than this film. Could it be because of the material? Or because the starring cast is black and not white?

  • CareyCarey | September 13, 2013 7:29 PM

    WHY? Hmmm... could it be a crippling budget or because of the Racial Empathy Gap? I think Andre Seewood should get to the bottom of this.

    In the interim, I have to give Ms. Zeba Bley a profound hat-tip. Her reviews receive a sniff of comments but she has been doing the damn thang. I'll have to checkout her podcast "Two Brown Girls" to listen to the voice of the afro wearing sister from Ghana, whose eloquent reviews show the signs of an intelligent and unique person.

  • Jen | September 9, 2013 11:02 AMReply

    Why has the film not done any advertisements or bigger promotion? Is the market "too" crowded with adult, intelligent stories about African Americans?

  • tmack | September 14, 2013 2:41 AM

    I've been looking forward to this film since it premiered at Sundance last winter. From what I understand, Blue Caprice has a limited opening this weekend, then Sept 17 it will be available from ITunes and other VOD sites.

    Despite the early critical acclaim, the film appears to be scaring people away. Strange that filmgoers can embrace a film like Zodiac, In Cold Blood, Badlands, or even Hannibal, but when it comes to exploring the psyches of two twisted mass murderers, it's unpalatable.

    These two aren't easy to box within the typical array of stereotypes for black men. You can't fit them in the "thug" or "gangbanger" slot; they aren't slaves or butlers. Muhammad had an agenda as intellectualized as that of the unibomber Ted Kacynski, but fueled by his bitterness about his peculiar plight in the world. Muhammad was the kind of man who really scares many white people--the kind who becomes a terrorist

    I noticed that IFC, the distributor, changed the trailer. But I prefer Moors' teasers, which, when I first saw them, scared the hell out of me.

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