For three weeks in the October of 2002, John Allen Muhammad and his 17-year-old companion Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized the country with a series of sniper attacks, carried out with lethal accuracy from a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice Sedan. Together, they murdered ten people and severely injured three others throughout Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC, leaving the rest of the country to ask the question that always arises in the wake of senseless shootings: Why?
In Blue Caprice, director Alexandre Moors attempts to answer the question with a cinematic retelling loosely inspired by the real-life events.
Starring Isaiah Washington as John and Tequan Richmond as Lee, the film departs slightly from the story of the real Beltway Snipers, choosing instead to focus less on the actual events of the attacks and more on the bizarre father-son relationship between the two men. What results is a disturbing journey into the psyches of two killers.
From its first moments the film departs from true events, beginning with Lee and John first meeting in Antigua, where the teen’s mother has abandoned him. John takes Lee in, begins calling him his son, and eventually brings him to the United States, where after a brief period of normalcy he begins to divulge his plans to bring down the government by killing at least five people a day over a month.
Over the course of the film, Lee goes from being a reluctant participant to a willing and capable companion, shaped and molded into a killing machine, forced to change himself completely, forced to kill, all in a bid to gain the approval of the only father figure he knows. Washington turns in a chilling performance but it’s Richmond, perhaps best known for his time on the hit sitcom Everybody Hates Chris, who provides the emotional center of the piece. His is a performance that conveys the shades of grey needed in a story like this, which places a slightly sympathetic light on two condemned, real-life murderers.
Using a fragmented, non-linear storytelling, Moors provides a film as quiet and methodical as the killers that it follows, opting a way from a more obvious, styilized approach.
That needling question of why, of course, never really gets answered. While that may be frustrating for viewers seeking a more direct telling of the Beltway Sniper shootings, the film’s ambiguous tone that neither condemns nor absolves the criminals may be the only explanation we’ll ever get.