How does one make sense of the seemingly senseless violence that occurs in the world? This is a question that director Alexandre Moors explores, and at times struggles with, in his debut feature Blue Caprice. Inspired by the real-life events that lead to the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks, the film focuses on the bond between two men each trapped by their own delusions.
Lee (Tequan Richmond), abandoned by his mother, is in desperate need of love and parental guidance and finds it unexpectedly in John (Isaiah Washington). Filled with paranoia and anger, John’s violent tendencies have resulted in him being slapped with a restraining order by his ex-wife and losing custody of his children. Seeing something in Lee, John brings him back to America and treats him as if he was his own. Taking the tough love approach, John instills on Lee his skewed views of life in America and the social imprisonments its systems create.
Using tactics that boarder on brainwashing and abuse, John attempts to toughen Lee up so that he is prepared to face the hardships that America has to offer. The dark ramification of John’s methodology is Lee’s desire to appease his “father” at all costs. This includes blindly shooting a teenage girl simply because she presumably lives at the house where someone had testified against John in the custody trial years earlier. Did Lee even target the correct house? According to John, it does not really matter as a message was sent. With the seeds for shaking up the system planted, John and Lee embark on a strategic shooting spree that will terrorize the residents of Washington D.C.
Blue Caprice takes a more meditative approach to documenting the events that took place around the shootings. Outside of one scene in which Moors highlights how John and Lee selected their victims, the film does not dwell or glamorize the actual shootings. Instead, Moors generates a menacing tone by showing the rear of their blue Chevy Caprice roaming the streets. Like hunters stalking their prey, the image of the car moving along the dark rainy roads is as chilling as the randomness of their targets. The Chevy Caprice is viewed as both a harbinger of death and a metaphor for the social alienation that both men feel.
Much of the strength of the film comes in the latter half when Moors focuses on the shootings and how John and Lee prepared for them. However, the film stumbles when it tries to explain the men’s motives. Considering that John is portrayed as angry and paranoid early on, there is very little that makes him an interesting character. In fact, it is baffling how he seems to attract the women that he does, including an alluded to tryst with Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams) who is the wife of his friend Ray (Tim Blake Nelson). Lee’s descent into delusion is intriguing, but his conversion never feels quite right. His growth from emotionally damaged youth to stone cold sniper is uneven and rushed. Moors even seems to lose sight of what to do with Jamie and Ray in the middle section of the film. Part Moors struggles stems from the fact that he is trying to provide logical reasons for individuals who and do not think logically.
Fortunately for Moors, the atmosphere he creates and the strong performances are what keep Blue Caprice afloat. Both Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond are great as the disturbed John and Lee. Richmond in particular gives a career defining performance. Blue Caprice may not have reached the chilling depths that one would hope for, but it is a solid look at a tragic event. The latter section of the film shows that Moors is a skilled filmmaker who knows how to unsettle an audience; it is just a shame that he gets so bogged down with trying to explain the unexplainable.