Among the lead candidates to be this year’s breakout title from the Next section at Sundance is Blue Caprice, a disturbing, masterfully controlled thriller based on the 2002 sniper attacks in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Renewed national discussion of mass shootings and gun control stands to heighten the impact of director Alexandre Moors’ head-turning debut, which is driven by performances of brooding intensity from Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond.
From the outset, "Blue Caprice" reaches for authenticity. An opening compilation draws from news reports of the infamous Beltway sniper attacks in which a pair of men picked off random victims for several weeks before authorities finally caught up to them. In spite of this foundation, however, French director Alexandre Moors makes no grand claims to veracity, and includes neither the typical "based on a true story" title card that so often implies authority nor an end credit summing up the fates of everyone involved. Instead, Moors isolates a well-known drama with the fleeting nonfiction prologue and explores it from the inside out: It's not an attempted reenactment, but it does aim to get at certain truths.
Moors, a Frenchman who now lives in New York, makes a major statement with this eerie, disquieting, verite-style exploration of the psychology of the Beltway snipers that builds to a feverish climactic recreation of the seemingly random killings. Moors, using repeated images of the men’s car gliding through the D.C. area interspersed with bloody images of shooting victims, brings back the shock of the killing spree with terrifying force.
Over the course of a fleet 93 minutes, Moors expertly juggles character insight with a keen attention to process, as John purchases the titular blue Chevy Caprice in which he and Lee will make their journey eastward, with a Bushmaster .223 rifle in tow. The shocking attacks themselves are relegated to an extended montage in the picture's final minutes, and for all the intimacy the film has established with its characters leading up to this point, the effect is not identification or complicity, but a sense of abject horror.