Monday, September 30, 2013

Blue Caprice

In the fall of 2002, the Washington, D.C. area was at the mercy of a 42-year-old ex-Army rifleman, and a disturbed 17-year-old kid. Beginning on Oct. 2, 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo spent 20 days wrecking havoc on the metropolitan D.C. area, spontaneously killing people from the trunk of their 1990 Chevrolet Caprice. They would drive up the interstates connecting southern Maryland and northern/central Virginia, stopping every so often to execute someone pumping gas or walking in a shopping plaza.

What made these killings so unnerving was that there was no pattern or motive. Age, gender and race were not of issue to Muhammad and Malvo, which meant no one was safe, and everyone was freaked the fucked out.

I grew up in a rural area less than an hour outside of Washington, D.C. I was a junior in high school when these attacks were going on. As a relatively new driver, I was instructed by my parents, teachers, and news outlets to use caution while pumping gas. Start the pump, get back in your car, and lay down across the front seat. When you got out of the car, you moved back and forth, so a sniper couldn’t set his sights on you. If you went to the store, any store, you moved at random in the parking lot. Never walking in a straight line. You zig zagged. It was terrifying.
The whole area was paralyzed by fear – a unique paranoia that turned everyone into a potential victim. And, sadly, it is that distinct brand of fear that is virtually absent from Blue Caprice, the new film based on these killings.

The Beltway Sniper Attacks, as they are now called, make for a rather cinematic story. Murders, brainwashing, lock downs, manhunts – in the right hands, Blue Caprice could be a Zodiac-style paranoid thriller. Never gratuitous and never cheap, but terrifying and patient. Instead, the film is a 90-minute bore lacking any semblance of the terror that the real events evoked.  

But, to be clear, and maybe this detail will help save the film for some of you, Blue Caprice is not about the attacks. Hell, it’s not even about the planning of the attacks. It’s about how one great and angry manipulator convinced an easily susceptible kid to do whatever the hell he told him to. Seventy minutes of the film are dedicated to the backstory of Muhammad and Malvo, five of which are somewhat interesting. From there, the film cuts to a brief and puzzlingly dull montage of the crimes, which is mostly long tracking shots of the blue Caprice driving slowly on highways. It’s the kind of movie that, if you were completely unaware of the Beltway Sniper Attacks, you would have no idea what the hell was going on, or why.
The film, which premiered at Sundance in January, is being touted as Isaiah Washington’s return to dramatic acting. Following his controversial Grey’s Anatomy dismissal a few years ago, John Allen Muhammad seemed like a conflicted, important role for Washington to dive into. The result makes for a spirited performance in a wildly one-note film. Washington gives it his all, but the material isn’t suited for his talent. Same can be said for Tequan Richmond, who plays Malvo with about as much fervor as the film will allow, which is very little. (For kicks, Joey Lauren Adams shows up as a piece of white trash who offers to have sex with Muhammad roughly eight seconds after meeting him. This has nothing to do with anything and only acts as filler in a film full of it.)

Look, I’m really not one to knock the work of new filmmakers. This is Alexandre Moors’ first feature film, and although the story is weak, I’m confident that Moors will go on to make better, more compelling pictures. Truth is, I probably wouldn’t have reviewed Blue Caprice if I hadn’t lived through these events myself. Muhammad and Malvo were caught at a rest stop located 20 miles from the home I grew up in. It was an unsettling end to a haunting spree. Yet another thing Blue Caprice depicts with a complete lack of conviction. D

16 comments:

  1. Very interesting. I've never heard of this film but this honestly doesn't sound like it's worth looking into. I had a vested interest in serial killers and stuff of that nature back in high school but it seems to me like unless you're a very good filmmaker (David Fincher, Wes Craven, etc.) most films of this nature are straight to DVD fare and aren't even worth looking into (I only know these films because they're on netflix [The Hunt for the BTK Killer, The Hillside Strangler, The Alphabet Killer, Ted Bundy]). Thanks for the headsup on this one!

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    1. My pleasure! It's never my intention to bash an up and coming filmmaker, but I lived through these events, and this film does a very poor job at bringing the fear we all felt to the surface. Damn shame.

      I've seen some of those films you mentioned and yeah... awful.

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  2. Thanks for the warning. I remember those shootings very well. I'm not from the area, but they dominated the news. It's a shame to see they seemed to have cast everything important to the wayside. I have to agree with maskofgojira when it comes to films like this going straight to DVD. That's pretty much what Ulli Lommel has made a career out of. (I wonder how his D.C Sniper movie would compare?)

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    1. I'm proud to say I have never seen a Ulli Lommel film. Ha. But I just read the synopsis for "D.C. Sniper" and... wow, I can't imagine it being any better than this.

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  3. So Joey Lauren Adams shows up for a brief moment as some white trash lady wanting to get it on w/ Isaiah Washington and that's it? BOO!!! Thanks for sparing me from seeing this film.

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    1. She pops up in a few more scenes, mostly to give shitty looks at people. A wasted role. (And I wasn't exaggerating... she literally screws Washington's character 8 seconds after meeting him. Like... what? It isn't shown in the film, but still, random.)

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  4. Being a Virginian myself, I remember those events very well. It seems like the case could have made a compelling movie. Even if it just focused on an unstable, vulnerable young man being manipulated by an older man, it could have been a fascinating character study. It's a shame the film was so one-note.

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    1. A shame indeed. I gathered early on that, Okay, this movie is going to be all backstory. That's cool, but you have to make it compelling. Sadly, not. Bummer.

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  5. the screencap there bothers the hell out of me. fairfax county parkway wasn't 7100 until very recently.

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    1. Yep, that's why I included it. Nice catch. You missed the extended tracking shot of the toll road, where you can see construction of the new metro line. It's that attention to detail that is completely absent from the film. And I get it, they didn't have a lot of money for this one. Fair enough. But maybe use shots of different parts of the road...?

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    2. Not sure I'll catch this one. I was somewhat intrigued by it when I heard about it, but it hasn't been getting positive reactions. So....eh.

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    3. Yeah, obviously I say skip it. Much better stuff out there right now.

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    4. wait, hang on. the sign is correct. it used to be 286.

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    5. Yeah, can't say I know too much about NOVA road signs. Never cared to remember. They botched the metro thing though.

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  6. Ouch. This wasn't high on my radar, so I'll probably just skip it. Besides, there are plenty of good films on the way.

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    1. Yeah, I'd say skip it. Not really worth it.

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