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No hard answers given

'D.C. Sniper' serves more as a documentary than a drama because so little is known about the shooting suspects.

October 17, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

The most frustrating question raised by the Washington, D.C.-area sniper shootings of a year ago is: "Why?" So far, no one has an answer to explain the three-week rampage allegedly committed by a 42-year-old Gulf War veteran and his 17-year-old "protege" that resulted in the deaths of 10 randomly selected innocents.

No answer regarding the motives of the two suspects -- former Army expert marksman John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the Jamaican teenager who was said to follow Muhammad like a zealot -- will be found in USA Network's original movie "D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear," airing tonight at 9. Instead, the film is a blow-by-blow reenactment of the psychological siege of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area that began with six murders in 24 hours on Oct. 2, 2002.

In fact, "D.C. Sniper" feels more like a documentary than a drama, re-creating newscasts and news conferences, even going so far as to replay actual footage of President Bush speaking to the nation during the shooting spree.

Resisting the urge for sensationalism, the film shows only one victim's body. The rest of the shootings are merely suggested. Hearing a shot and a scream and seeing blood splatter a gas pump actually conveys the horror more effectively.

This film hardly needed any extra drama anyway. The snipers struck anywhere, at any time, making no distinctions based on race, gender or age. Victims ranged from a landscaper mowing a lawn at a car dealership to a woman in a craft store parking lot. The film also serves as a portrait of former Montgomery County (Md.) Police Chief Charles Moose, who leads the investigation with his lion's heart on his sleeve, sloughing off criticism to emerge a hero of Gary Cooper-esque proportions. Particularly potent are star Charles S. Dutton's reenactments of Moose's news conferences, which show him sometimes displaying barely concealed fury and other times shedding helpless tears.

As the slayings mount, the story becomes one of a mano a mano showdown between Moose and suspect Muhammad, one man on the side of order, the other on the side of chaos.

The suspect begins leaving notes at his crime scenes addressed to "Mr. Police," chiding law enforcement for its "incompetence." Dutton's Moose in turn directly addresses the sniper on TV.As the film points out, the suspect may have had a point about police bumbling. Law enforcement stuck rigidly to its original FBI profile of a white male acting alone and driving a white van. Both presumptions were dead wrong. More false leads, wrong suspects and lying witnesses followed. Despite more than 1,000 federal and local law enforcement officials involved in the hunt, Muhammad practically turned himself and his partner in by leaving increasingly obvious clues, even phoning in hints to the FBI task force hotline.

"D.C. Sniper" shows suspects Muhammad and Malvo finally being captured without incident, sleeping in their Chevy Caprice.

As directed by Tom McLoughlin and written by David Erickson, "D.C. Sniper" follows news accounts faithfully, revealing the mounting tension in the police department and the increasing fear in the community. Three-time Emmy-winner Dutton gives a wonderfully understated performance as Moose. But the viewer is left most intrigued by the relationship between Muhammad and Malvo, which is just touched upon in the film because so little is known about the dynamic between the two.

Muhammad is played with cool grit by Bobby Hosea, while Trent Cameron portrays Malvo as a wide-eyed follower. The exact nature of their relationship remains a story for another, even more compelling TV movie.

*

`D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear'

Where: USA

When: Tonight at 9, repeated at 11

Rating: The network has rated the movie TV-14-V (may not be suitable for children under the age of 14, with an advisory for violence).

Charles S. Dutton...Charles Moose

Jay O. Sanders...Douglas Duncan

Bobby Hosea...John Allen Muhammad

Trent Cameron...Lee Boyd Malvo

Tom O'Brien...Lt. Jacobs

Charlayne Woodward...Mildred Muhammad

Director Tom McLoughlin. Writer Dave Erickson. Executive producer Orly Adelson.

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