"What are we gonna do with you, huh?"
Anyone going into the film Blue Caprice with at least a cursory knowledge of the film's subject matter will get shivers down their spine when the character John (Isaiah Washington) utters that phrase to his newly found "son" Lee (Tequan Richmond) early in the film. The film is an at least partially fictionalized account of the series of events that brought together the two men who carried out the sniper attacks that crippled Maryland and Virginia for nearly a month in late 2002. The film is a haunting portrait of madness and the lengths that people will go to in order to prove themselves to one another or the world at large.
Opening in Antigua, Blue Caprice wisely starts off by showing us a seamier side of a place that most Westerners consider to be paradise. Abandoned by his mother, 16 year-old Lee wanders the streets and beaches until he attracts the attention of John, a man vacationing with his three young children. There are hints that John may have brought his children there against their mother's wishes, and so John & Lee are portrayed as men in desperate need of one another. Returning to the states five months later, John has fully Americanized Lee and has begun to call him son.
After a short stay with a woman who eventually kicks them out, John & Lee end up in the home of Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) & Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). Ray is an old friend of John's who quickly shares his habit of shooting guns in the woods with Lee. Finding the kid to be a natural, John begins to craft a plan to cause panic in the lives of people who, in his estimation are living ignorantly in this world they think is safe. After a series of random violent acts, John purchases the titular automobile and begins modifying it for the next phase in their plan, one which would cause unparalleled panic in the area around our nation's capitol.
First and foremost, the film is anchored by two powerhouse performances from Washington & Richmond. They manage to convincingly portray these characters without seeking to infuse them with empathy. Washington, in particular, has an uncanny ability to turn moments in which you begin to feel some sympathy for him into opportunities to show the true madness lurking just beneath the surface of this man. The script by R.F.I. Porto is full of moments like these that immediately undercut all attempts to make the audience feel any sort of connection to these characters. Late in the film when John looks at Lee and says "I've created a monster," it's brilliant both for its placement at that particular moment and for Washington's delivery which oozes with sick, paternal pride.
First time director Alexandre Moors almost completely resists the urge to ladle on the heavy handed metaphors. Only a third act rainstorm as the two set out across the country feels a bit on the nose, but otherwise the film is as even handed and assured a directorial debut as any I've seen lately. The film is wise to keep the time period ever present in the audience's mind, particularly its use of television news coverage of the war in Afghanistan and an early scene where Lee watches soldiers recruiting people outside a local center. The way the film uses the actual 911 calls and news footage of the shootings both early and late in the film is appropriately unsettling and raises the film's urgency in a significant way.
I really can't say enough good things about Washington's performance here. As an actor, he's no stranger to controversy and the fallout it can cause, and he channels a lot of that pent up aggression into his character and creates a chilling portrait of evil. I sincerely hope he is not entirely overlooked come the end of the year awards season. Richmond is his equal in every sense of the word, staying lock-step with his surrogate father, and going on probably the more interesting journey from a neglected kid to a remorseless killing machine. Their performances compliment each other in all the right ways.
The rest of the cast is very good, if almost wholly underused. Nelson is great at playing backwoods hillbillies with a questionable moral compass, and I mean that in the best way possible. He plays a subtle variation on his character from the underrated and under-seen 2003 film Wonderland, and his character adds true richness to this world. Adams is also very good in her handful of scenes as is Cassandra Freeman as the woman who kicks Lee & John out of her house early in the film. Leo Fitzpatrick, best known for his role as Telly in Kids, also has a great scene as a weapons dealer.
Blue Caprice is a spare and haunting film that will linger with you long after it's over. If I have any complaint to lodge against it, it's that the film is a bit lethargic in its first two acts and then a shade heavy handed in the third, but those are minor complaints. I imagine the film will play just as good at home as it does in a theater, so if it doesn't come to a theater near you this summer, be sure to seek it out when it hits video. It's worth it just for the two lead performances alone, and I sincerely hope it leads to more work for Washington. He is an actor with serious talent and not a shred of vanity, and I can only hope that roles this good begin to come his way on a regular basis.
GO Rating: 4/5
[Photos via RottenTomatoes]