“There are some evil people in this world”
While it may take liberties with facts, Alexandre Moors‘ Blue Caprice still finds a way to get at the heart of what transpired to put John Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) and Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond) onto their path towards Washington DC and the infamous Beltway Murders of 2002. Written by R.F.I. Porto, the film follows Lee from being left alone by his mother in Antigua to a new life in Tacoma, WA with the more than charitable John taking him under his wing. They provide each other the thing they need to be whole—someone to count on and someone to educate respectively. Rather than be a sound role model to aspire towards, however, John instead indoctrinates the boy with the paranoid rhetoric of a mad man that had already derailed any semblance of normalcy he once possessed.
We infer early that John kidnapped his three young children to the Caribbean despite his love for them making us believe their healthy relationship could expand to include the abandoned Lee. With the two men arriving in Tacoma alone and a phone call to cajole new contact information for the kids falling short, however, we realize the truth and know John will probably never see them again. The role of son thus falls to the teenage Malvo whom he’s taught to assimilate into the sham known as “proper society”. This entails diatribes against those who wronged him, people we understand were merely concerned citizens trying to help the poor defenseless wife and children he was too broken to keep. But when John’s friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) takes them shooting and reveals Lee natural inclination, words quickly escalate into action.
Moors shrouds everything in a dark and deliberate sheen with a subtly haunting score from Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson driving the slow camera pulls and pans towards a foreboding feeling for what’s to come. The film begins with a credit sequence using actual media coverage of the attacks and the 911 calls made in their aftermaths, ensuring we understand this story has no happy endings before any illusions are shattered for good when John mentions the ghosts and vampires now living on the quiet street he once resided with his family. These are the monsters that turned on him and destroyed his life because God forbid he admits personal fault. And the way he looks at Lee when the boy effortlessly shoots his target with the “widowmaker”? His fantasies for revenge on the world become possible.
Condensed for cinematic reasons, the lessons John uses to prey upon Lee’s guilt and need for reciprocating “love” occur in Tacoma to keep things consistent before they ready their titular ride for an adventure to Silver Spring, MD. The roles of Ray and his wife Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams) are therefore used to heavy-handedly show Malvo possessed a good heart before being brainwashed into making his new father figure proud. They open their doors with a weird mix of friendship and trepidation as though they know what John’s capable of and would rather remain on his good side than not. And all the while Lee wrestles conscience against duty until the devil’s calm voice is all that’s left to prepare their mission: to awaken a listless and uncaring society from their lucid dreams of false security.
It’s this psychological hijacking that Porto scripts right whether or not the blue caprice should have been purchased in New Jersey or if Lee actually arrived to America through Miami with his mother before she disappeared. He plays with these facts in order to take us down the rabbit hole of Malvo’s precarious psyche; to ensure we believe him capable of being the robotically unfeeling creature John needs to wreak his warped sense of vengeance. There are times Lee can’t help but know what he’s doing is wrong, but Muhammad is a master manipulator and knows exactly what buttons to push to break his companion down into seeing only what he allows him to see. After all, this is just the first phase of his plan, one readied to go the distance.
Credit both lead actors for bringing this dynamic to life in the quiet moments of their methodically engineered relationship. Washington is a force able to project the menacing bile flowing underneath his casual smile and in control demeanor. He uses fear to teach yet very rarely raises his voice—an incongruous juxtaposition making him all the more unsettling. Richmond on-the-other-hand sees stoic insecurities turning into a steely façade gradually removed of any emotion he once felt. The palpable pain hidden behind sad eyes doesn’t disappear with his gratitude towards John for taking him in, but instead exacerbates through the remorse of his first kill. The only time it finally leaves Richmond’s face is when all remnants of the boy he was are replaced by the empty shell serving solely as an extension of John’s troubled mind.
I’m not surprised Moors hasn’t seen more universal praise because this isn’t your usual biopic. There’s a lyrical quality—a poetic flavor—to its unfolding of vignettes less intent on connecting as they are showing powerful glimpses into John’s systematic takeover of Lee’s soul. He doesn’t even show the Beltway murders besides one woman and one man targeted through Malvo’s scope. The rest are rendered as faceless bodies lying motionless in the aftermath as more crazed 911 calls ring out. Blue Caprice is more horror than anything else in this respect too: a righteous force of death and destruction rising through random strikes that show no one is safe. Not you, not me, and certainly not the scared, lonely boy unfortunate enough to find purpose in a monster. The ugliest truth, however, is John’s ultimate victory in indelibly changing our landscape his bullets.
Rating: R | Runtime: 93 minutes | Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (USA)
Studio: IFC Films / Sundance Selects
Director(s): Alexandre Moors
Writer(s): R.F.I. Porto