It was a scary October in 2002 when random victims in the Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. area were being picked off by an unknown sniper. Were there going to be copy cat killers? How long was this going to continue? How wide was the circle of victims going to spread? Finally, 3 weeks later, the horror came to an end when a father and son were arrested for the random crimes. There wasn’t really a huge media push to find answers. The trial wasn’t really sensationalized as I remember. The whole thing just kind of faded away. I think many people expected the usual, trashy, movie-of-the-week to give an explanation, but nothing came.
At last, Blue Caprice directed by Alexandre Moors has arrived as a movie that profiles the perpetrators John Allen Muhammad and his “son” Lee Boyd Malvo, but captures the events without the cheap thrills and clichés of many other disaster-type films. Instead, we are taken on a meditative journey through the mysterious men behind the shootings.
Blue Caprice focuses on the point of view of Lee, played by Tequan Richmond. A teen brought up in the Caribbean, Lee is essentially abandoned by his single mother and finds family in John (Isaiah Washington), an American on holiday with his children. From the beginning, it is clear John is full of anger, mostly directed at his ex-wife, who has full custody of their kids. He has a textbook case of narcissistic personality disorder, and vents about all the people that have done him harm, and how the world is against him. Lee who is very impressionable, is almost instantly spellbound by John with dreams of having a life in the U.S., and listens intently to John’s wayward lectures about life. These lectures are really poorly veiled rants which soon turn into play-by-play revenge fantasies on anyone who either has slighted him or isn’t on his side.
Very soon after their arrival in Tacoma, Washington, it is clear that John has no real prospects. His kids have gone back to his ex, their whereabouts unknown, and a restraining order prevents him from finding them. The two rely on the kindness of John’s friends as they basically couch surf the entire time. Meanwhile, Lee’s indoctrination continues with a ferocious energy as John molds him into a misanthropic weapon through guilt and harsh psychological games. Murder becomes a way for Lee to show gratitude towards John and all he has done for him; it is a way of earning the father he sees in John.
It is difficult not to have sympathy for Lee since he is clearly brainwashed, which is a surprising accomplishment for a film covering this type of subject matter. As Isaiah Washington stated in the Q&A after the screening, this film is about poor leadership and poor fathering. Humanizing the culpability of these horrific events cannot be easy, but Blue Caprice captures the extreme lengths one goes through as he struggles to belong.
We still have our villain of the film in John, and we are given a deeper example of the evil and perversion he is capable of in his brainwashing of Lee. Even when we arrive at the shootings themselves, it is clear that John is the real sniper with Lee as the trigger.
Ultimately, the film presents the nightmare that was the Beltway Sniper as symptomatic of the larger crisis of violence in our country.
Alexandre Moors purposely leaves Blue Caprice open to interpretation with periodic nudges toward self-reflection as a nation in love with its guns. Media footage of murder victims and 911 calls bookend the film highlighting what is a common occurrence in this country. Whether this film will lead to a paradigm shift remains to be seen, but in the meantime it is a captivating exploration into a dysfunctional familial relationship.