Runs Fri., Sept. 27–Thurs., Oct. 3 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Rated R. 93 minutes.
Blue Caprice is not about the Beltway sniper killings of 2002. No one was cast to play Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who became synonymous with the shootings as he updated a terrified county and voracious news cameras during the serial murders. We see none of the victims felled at gas stations, nor get any sense of the frantic efforts to find the elusive snipers. But for one blood-curdling moment, we see nary a rifle emerging from the trunk of the killers’ titular sedan.
Rather, this haunting film is about two men whose last names we never learn. John (Isaiah Washington) is an older man to whom the essentially orphaned teenage Lee (Tequan Richmond) is drawn when they meet in Antigua. The two then travel to Tacoma, where in the woods Lee learns to shoot and in the city learns to kill at random. In fact, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo did come to Tacoma, and stole from a local gunshop the Bushmaster that they’d later use for their killings. The death of 21-year-old Tacoma resident Keenya Cook would later be linked to the men.
Yet director Alexandre Moors’ powerful film isn’t meant to be a true-crime documentary. Instead, it’s about love at its most manipulative and vengeance served ice-cold. It’s about the making of a homegrown terrorist whose hatred of the United States is never explained (though it seems to come from some toxic mixture of insanity and John’s child-custody battles). The moody score casts even the most emotionally fraught moments in a melancholy light.
Some may feel that Blue Caprice gives Lee a free pass. Richmond’s quiet portrayal casts him squarely as a victim who’s psychologically and physically pressed into his deadly deeds. And at the very least, Richmond’s performance makes Lee seem so harmless that it challenges belief when the bloodshed starts. For all the panic that ensued, this fictionalized prelude is both completely chilling and eerily plausible.
*CORRECTION: This review originally said no Washington murders have ever been linked to Muhammad and Malvo. In fact, they are connected to the murder of Keenya Cook in Tacoma.