Even as shootings, bombings and other random tragedies proliferate in our society to the point where many have become desensitized, the heinous acts from the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks near Washington, D.C., still resonate.
That incident is the focus of Blue Caprice, an ambitious and quietly powerful character study that tries to get behind the headlines and inside the minds of killers. In the process, the film offers a new perspective on the murders without exploiting the incident.
The story follows the development of the relationship between John (Isaiah Washington), a divorced father whose loss in a custody battle has left him bitter and depressed, and Lee (Tequan Richmond), a quiet and emotionally troubled teenager rescued by a vacationing John from a broken home on a Caribbean island.
After taking him to his home to Tacoma, Wash., John initially acts as a responsible father figure and immediately earns the boy’s trust. They bond over a shooting expedition in the woods with John’s ex-military friend (Tim Blake Nelson), who teaches Lee to become a good shot.
However, John’s behavior becomes gradually more erratic, as does his physical and psychological abuse of the impressionable Malvo in an attempt to manipulate the teenager and manifest his own rage.
For the most part, these are generally average, non-violent people who become fed up with the world, and their lack of a specific motive makes their actions that much more unsettling.
Marking the sharp directorial debut of Alexandre Moors, Blue Caprice navigates some tricky territory, to be sure, with a screenplay likely pieced together as much from speculation as facts.
While it overindulges in trivial details, the deliberately paced film takes an even-handed approach. It smartly avoids trying to make some grand political statement, while also not turning the perpetrators into victims. It’s more concerned with the psychology leading up to the crime than the physical violence.
Both lead actors are excellent, with Richmond (TV’s “Everybody Hates Chris”) offering a nicely understated, expressive performance in a role with little dialogue relative to screen time.
From a narrative perspective, it doesn’t matter that most moviegoers already will know the details of the shootings. The result is insightful and provocative, and the final half-hour is still harrowing, making some painful memories even more vivid.
Rated R, 93 minutes.