The shootings were so random — a parking lot, at a gas station, a guy mowing grass, a baby-sitter reading a book on a bus stop bench.
They happened in a spree — in Maryland, Virginia, greater Washington, D.C. — and set off a frantic manhunt and car hunt. He had to be a “disaffected white male.” He called in threats and warnings: “Your children are not safe, anywhere, at any time.”
Was the shooter driving a van? Or white truck?
No, it was a “Blue Caprice.” And the “shooter” was two black men, John Allen Muhammad and a teen he treated as his “son,” Lee Malvo.
“Blue Caprice” is a chilling portrait of motive, manipulation and mass murder. As Muhammad — never called by that name in Alexandre Moors‘ film — Isaiah Washington paints a portrait of brittle charm and embittered, bloody-minded grudges. We meet a doting father, see him take in a teen who has been abandoned by his mother, and then watch him use people, claim victimhood and eventually create a monster as his tool for revenge on a country this military vet felt had done him wrong. Washington is brilliant in the part — scary, mysterious, but not the least bit unfathomable.
The grown man meets the boy Lee (an intense yet vulnerable Tequan Richmond) in Antigua, and eventually takes him to Tacoma, Wash., where the ex-Army mechanic renews his friendship with an old service buddy.
Tim Blake Nelson is a rough, working-class gun aficionado — heading off into the woods to “let off some steam” by shooting any one of his large, unsecured collection of guns. Pistols are fine and hunting rifles have their place. But “if you really want to make a difference in the world,” there’s nothing like an assault rifle, he glibly tells the boy. And the kid, taking his first shots, is “a natural.”
Washington, Moors and screenwriter R.F.I. Porto let us see the wheels begin to turn in Muhammad’s head. He’s under a restraining order, kept away from his ex-wife and kids. With a “Do you love me?” he starts indoctrinating the teen with his vision for their exploits, the terror they will strike at the whole “house of cards” that Muhammad feels a random shooting spree will topple.
“Blue Caprice” can be faulted for its dry take on these characters and their actions.
Moors is engrossed by the heist picture elements here, how they trained, Muhammad’s rationale for picking random victims, part of his strategy that if it could be anybody carrying out these crimes, for any of a number of reasons, “we can be invisible.”
We get nothing of the longer version of Muhammad’s own radicalization — his separation from the Army, his involvement with the Nation of Islam. And we see little hesitation, confusion or remorse in the boy, who curled up in the trunk of that late model blue Chevrolet that they bought with money stolen in a murder / robbery and picked off targets with a high-powered rifle. Richmond gives us the arc of needy and unwanted to cold-eyed and cold-blooded without much humanity in between.
There’s no dwelling on the victims, when picking out even one of them for profiling would have added impact and emotion to the story.
But “Blue Caprice” is as complete a portrait as the movies have given us of the disaffected among us, people whose sanity is as shaky as a house of cards, and the easy access to weapons and cultural anonymity that allows them to act out their dark fantasies of revenge on the unsuspecting.
Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson
Directed by Alexandre Moors, written by R.F.I. Porto. An IFC/Sundance Select release.
Running time: 1:27
MPAA rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use