By Simon Miraudo
March 17, 2014
There are certain acts of inhumanity impossible to fathom. Crimes of passion, we get. Acts of terrorism, no matter how heinous or misguided, are often executed for specific ideological reasons. We fear them, and yet, understand them. But how can one be expected to wrap their mind around the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, who raped, killed, and, in some instances, ate (though not always in that order) 17 victims? Or Richard Speck, who did unspeakable things to eight student nurses in 1966? And how about Charles Manson, who surely doesn’t need his crimes outlined again? Where do we begin? How do we explain? Blue Caprice, which hazily depicts the events that led to the killing spree of Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, brings me to the bigger question: does investigating the motives of these people ever deliver any satisfying answers?
French music video director Alexandre Moors makes his feature debut on Blue Caprice, a risky venture made riskier by the hiring of disgraced former Grey’s Anatomy star Isaiah Washington. He plays John Allen Muhammad, or at least a version of him. We’re introduced to this troubled man through the eyes of Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), a Jamaican-born teen who finds in John a father-figure to admire, unfortunately for him, and especially for the ten people they would eventually kill in Virginia and Washington throughout October of 2002.
The picture woozily hangs around this unconventional father-son duo. John spends his day trying to figure out how to fool his kids’ school into revealing their current home address, despite constant reminders of his wife’s restraining order. Malvo spends his day not doing much at all, besides taking in his mentor’s sermons on the rotten state of the world, learning to shoot under the tutelage of John’s friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), or, enjoying one of his few non-passive hobbies: shoplifting. The monotonous, circular storytelling numbs us into a state similar to Lee’s, and when the film finally places them in the titular Blue Caprice, which they use to stalk and shoot 13 people, killing 10, you’ll be surprised to discover we’ve quietly reached its grisly climax.
Washington, reputation aside, is a disquieting figure here. Charismatic and unknowable, he conveys how easy it was for John to convince this 17-year-old stranger to blindly follow violent orders. Screenwriter R.F.I. Porto and Moors give us an idea of the motives for the killings, and it’s a melange of excuses Muhammad delivered when he was originally tried for the murders, such as his political and religious fundamentalism, as well as the unsubstantiated claim he was trying to hide the murder of his wife by shrouding it in the middle of a spree. Mostly though, Blue Caprice lays the blame on John and Lee’s sociopathic nature, which is both the likeliest and scariest explanation for this rampage, not to mention the least satisfying. Aren’t those other theories so much easier to swallow than the idea of a man whose wiring was all wrong, and who so easily made his problems ours?
Blue Caprice may have been better off, if it wanted to shake some sense into us about the randomness of the universe, laying all those other conspiracy theories aside, instead of hedging its bets as it does. Hugely unpleasant to watch, and providing little in the way of additional insight into these mysterious minds, I find it hard to exactly call Blue Caprice any good. And yet, I fall on the side of recommending it. Even more reliable than humanity’s ability to be uncommonly cruel for no real reason, is people’s curiosity in such brutality. Blue Caprice lays out the details of a terrible time for Americans. By offering us the chance to find some rhyme or reason in such madness… well, that’s a decent enough endeavour, I suppose.
Blue Caprice will be available on Quickflix from March 19 2014.