Directed by Alexandre Moors
The cable-news crawl is looking more and more like this season’s go-to source for art-house inspiration: filmmakers have soberly ripped from headlines both domestic (Fruitvale Station) and international (the composite scenario of A Hijacking), while others have built out behavioral studies from elements sensational enough to make it into any broadcast: The Hunt, Our Children, A Teacher. Now arrives Blue Caprice, the bracing debut feature from writer-director Moors, based on the well-publicized early-aughts Beltway-sniper murder spree.
Placid Antigua provides the setting for the early scenes, with young Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond) left by his gone-for-work mother to fend for himself—something he’s not exactly prepared to do, as evidenced by his vacant opening and closing of the refrigerator. From a distance, he observes the American father of two down the street, before managing to insinuate himself into the man’s care. With an abrupt months-later cut, John Allen Muhammad (Isaiah Washington) arrives in the port of Tacoma with his new charge, his two younger children conspicuously absent. Moors diminishes our sympathy for this adoptive father as it becomes clearer that he is not, as they say, right in the head. His worldview has been warped by an ugly custody battle (he flouts a restraining order by placing calls to his kids’ school), his rage then channeled through a brand of whittled-down militarism. (Tim Blake Nelson does supporting duty as an Army-buddy target-practice partner, alongside Joey Lauren Adams as his girlfriend.) In Washington’s hands, John’s early diatribes are legitimately hair-raising: he erupts when strolling with Lee through the suburb where he used to live, and crystallizes his (incoherent) grand plan in the freezer aisle of a supermarket, with Lee eventually becoming his personal foot soldier in a campaign of patternless violence engineered to “wake people up.”
As Blue Caprice follows John and Lee cross-country in the vehicle of the title (custom-retrofitted with a removable backseat and a sniper-rifle peephole just above the license plate), Moors deftly maintains the sense of a world gone awry. He tails the car, at middle distance, as it crawls along the interstate lane lines; in due time the victims appear as bodies simply slumped to the ground. Even the Stars and Stripes’ cameo is executed with a queasy finesse, as we glimpse a flag hanging over a highway-gas-station crime scene.
Otherwise generally choosing to underplay the national-crisis angle, Moors exhumes yesterday’s news chiefly to highlight the makeshift-family dynamic at its core. A marvel of tone that’s as cold to the touch as its tarmac surfaces, Blue Caprice nonetheless comes to seem a little static in its psychology, with filial devotion never much in doubt, no matter how unsavory the patriarch’s demand. Then again, that could be in part less a dramatic failure than a function of the fact that most viewers likely remember this episode all too well—perhaps that’s the real story here.
Opens September 13