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Sundance 2013: Icy abstraction of D.C. snipers in 'Blue Caprice'

January 21, 2013|By Mark Olsen
  • Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond in Alexandre Moors' "Blue Caprice," premiering as part of the Sundance Film Festival.
Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond in Alexandre Moors' "Blue… (Good Company )

It seemed like a nightmare become real -- a string of random shootings in the Washington, D.C., area in October 2002 that gripped the nation with fear and confusion. That the perpetrators, once captured, turned out to be a former soldier and a teenage boy only made the spree more surreal, more troubling.

The Sundance film “Blue Caprice” -- named after the perpetrators' Chevrolet -- revisits the attacks in dramatic, not documentary, fashion. But rather than a torn-from-the-headlines thriller, “Blue Caprice” transforms the story into an abstracted character study, one directed with the cerebral iciness of Roman Polanski.

Filmmaker Alexandre Moors, making his feature debut with “Blue Caprice,” is a French-born, New York-based creative director and music video director who recently collaborated on film projects with Kanye West. While researching a different project, he came across a passing reference to John Allen Muhammad (the former soldier) and Lee Boyd Malvo (the teenager) that gave him pause. He was struck by how two people unrelated by blood could so quickly come to adopt one another as father and son and push each other to monstrous action.

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Though some will want to rope the film into the currently heated debate over gun violence in the media, the film itself resists easy categorization. Working with screenwriter R.F.I. Porto, Moors wanted to create a story that left audiences with more questions than answers.

“I didn’t want to get inside their heads,” Moors said by phone from New York before the festival. “What interested me was the process of stepping into this world of violence, but also the emotional manipulation the two were doing to each other. We were careful not to map out a psychology. The film is still open to some degree as to why both of them are doing what they are doing."

Starring Isaiah Washington as Muhammad and Tequan Richmond as Malvo, the film opens on the island of Antigua and shows the two meeting, then moving to Washington state. Introducing Malvo as his son, Muhammad falls in with an old army buddy (Tim Blake Nelson) and his wife (Joey Lauren Adams), slowly revealing a deep rage over his own divorce and being kept away from his children by his ex-wife.

From there, the two begin a training regime for a non-specific purpose. The young Malvo learns how to shoot and diligently studies a military training manual. After Malvo commits two murders, seemingly at the behest of Muhammad, the pair set out for the nation's capital in a blue Chevrolet Caprice they had modified, turning the car's trunk into a mobile sniper's nest.

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Moors and Porto were careful to line up the known facts of true events with the film, though Moors acknowledges that the timeline of the movie is somewhat compressed. The production even found the exact model of car used by Muhammad and Malvo. The one thing Moors and Porto did not do in their research is attempt to contact Malvo, who is serving a lifetime prison sentence in Virginia. (Muhammad was executed in 2009.)

“I didn’t want it to be a biopic,” Moors said. “It was clear to me I was not there to tell their story. I wanted to tell my own interpretation, to make a fiction out of their story.

“And the fact is he killed a lot of people,” Moors said of Malvo. “I was not interested in meeting him, having him too close to me or the film. I was not interested in defending him or hearing his side of the story.”

The searing, intense performance by Washington could begin a comeback of sorts for the actor, who has been in something of a professional limbo since leaving the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2007 amid allegations of threats and slurs against other cast members. Moors said he cast the actor, whom he initially contacted via Facebook, based on his performances in films such as “True Crime” and “Out of Sight” and his collaborations with Spike Lee.

As to whether he cast Washington as someone who may know something about being misunderstood, Moors said, “I was really oblivious to all that. I don’t have a TV. I didn’t even know he was on a TV show, so I didn’t know how he got fired."

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Although the film maintains a fairly even balance between the perspectives of Muhammad and Malvo, Moors admits, “It’s a little more Lee’s story,” even as the film creates a push and pull to their dynamic rather than just a tyrannical indoctrination.

“I was interested more in their relationship than in the gruesome events,” Moors said, noting that some early drafts of the screenplay didn’t even include the duo’s final murderous rampage that left 10 dead.

“The D.C. part is well documented, so I had little interest in tracing the day-by-day or making a suspense thriller about who are they going to shoot next or how they got caught. That’s a different movie.”


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Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus

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