Blue Caprice **** (out of five)
Astonishingly assured for a debut feature – or for any feature – Alexandre Moors’ meditation on the relationship between “Washington Sniper” duo John Muhammad and Lee Malvo leading up to their 2002 killing spree is mature, sophisticated, artful, intelligent and profound. It would also be a moving and sweet depiction of the growing bond between a father and his adopted son if it weren’t actually about mass murder.
John, an ex-soldier, met Lee, abandoned by his mother, in Antigua, brought him to the United States, and over the course of some time educated him into becoming the shooter for the attacks. The movie follows that whole dysfunctional relationship, hewing to the known facts (Lee has opened up a lot about what happened since his incarceration) and fashioning a hugely believable portrait of two essentially good people breaking very, very bad.
Moors never panders to his audience and never condescends to them. The picture is neither sensationalistic nor sentimental; it deals with the killing spree remarkably discreetly and tastefully. Moors edited the film himself, with Gordon Grinberg, and that work is astonishing; he lets us fill in many, many moments, cutting surprisingly from intriguing moment to intriguing moment, never giving us what we expect. It’s as though, when some Hollywood studio was done with the actors, locations and cameras for the day, Moors came and shot the other scenes, the ones a studio wouldn’t bother with, and thereby fashioned a much fresher film. He tells this remarkable, tragic story in glimpses, stolen moments, and incredible images (the cinematographer is Brian O’Carroll).
The acting is top-notch across the board. Isaiah Washington is brilliant as the complex and troubled John; Tequan Richmond is totally convincing as Lee – and it’s a hard role – and there’s fantastic character support from the ever-reliable Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, and, in a one-scene role, Leo Fitzpatrick. The soundtrack (Sarah Neufeld and Colin Stetson) is perfect and the script (R.F.I. Porto) tight as a drum (it’s all over in ninety-three minutes). Everything works. Highly recommended.