Craig's First Take: "Blue Caprice"

Photo Credit: © 2013 - IFC Films

Even if it wasn’t coming out after a string of recent shootings, a movie about the 2002 Beltway snipers John Muhammad and Lee Malvo sounds like a tough watch. But “Blue Caprice”, a reference to the car the men turned into a killing machine, is a remarkable surprise. The killings only really take up the last 15 minutes of the film. Instead director Alexandre Moors and writer R.F.I Porto focus on the two men. It’s an unnerving story of mind control, reminiscent of “Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene”, incredibly well acted.

Isaiah Washington, who we haven’t seen since he said that controversial thing about a “Greys Anatomy” cast member that nobody still remembers, comes back in a big way as John, an American vacationing in Antigua, which is where he meets the unhappy Lee (Tequan Richmond). Having a mother who continually abandons him, Lee is drawn to John as a father figure, even accompanying him back to Tacoma, Washington.

But while John seems like a pleasant guy on the beautiful beach of Antigua, he shows his true colors as an angry man in Washington. Washington, by which I mean Isaiah, gives one of the best performances of the year here, playing an emotionally wounded and unstable man who saw his ex-wife suck his children and life away from him. Again we see men “blowing off steam” by shooting guns, John’s pal Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), who says Lee is a natural shot, provides guns to practice with and a place to stay for both men.

He could not have predicted what would come next though. The two men, who it’s safe to say were probably close to being complete pariahs, found solace in one another. Richmond is also excellent here, playing a young man who desperately craved the reassurance and respect of a father, to such extremes that he accepted Muhammad’s training regiments, insane pronouncements (“It’s not crazy to kill people”), and his fatal plans to put the fear of God in people. Muhammad, who we can tell even from the outset always portrayed himself as a victim, saw this and exploited it.

“Caprice” begins with footage and a real 911 call Malvo made during the rampage. This is the only time the film gives to how big of a national story this actually was. It never sensationalizes anything or tries to make excuses, but it does wind up being a fascinating character study of the combustion that occurs when certain elements are mixed together just right, making something that’s just wrong.