'Blue Caprice'


Blue Caprice gets it half right.

It is convincing in its portrayal of the twisted relationship between John Muhammad and Lee Malvo that took the pair across the country on a shooting spree in 2002 directed, only in the abstract, at Muhammad's ex-wife. Muhammad, played by Isaiah Washington, met Malvo, portrayed in a breakout performance by Tequan Richmond, in the Caribbean and brought him back to the United States where the pair masqueraded as father and son, the abandoned Malvo getting the parental attention he so craved and Muhammad getting to play the part of patriarch for someone else with his real children estranged.

During its quieter moments, this is a film that is pitch perfect in its depiction of the sick symbiosis that develops between two mass murders. In Malvo, Muhammad gets someone with whom he can share his darkest thoughts, someone who is willing to act on the misguided sense of injustice that he feels. In Muhammad, Malvo gets the attention he craves -- never mind the quality of it -- some structure, even part of an ethos. This is never more powerful than the months preceding their rampage in Maryland and Virginia, their bond established over jogs and wrestling matches in the woods of Washington state and during target practice with Muhammad's friend Ray, who is played by Tim Blake Nelson.

As Muhammad and Malvo begin to escalate toward murder, the film loses much of its subtlety and with it much of the eerie power it possesses during its first act. Washington's Muhammad is too prone to the great (and quite hackneyed) speech, delivering a hammer to the head in several spots when the film has already proven quite adept at delivering its message independent of the words of its principal players. We don't need one of the main characters to tell us that they are practically invisible after Malvo commits one of his first murders. It's readily apparent, and by making it explicit, it tilts this pair from chilling to cartoonish, robbing the film of some of its effect.

Blue Caprice could have been oh-so-much more discomforting of an experience. I lived in the area during the time of the killings. I still do, actually. It was a terrifying time, even more so than the 9/11 attacks the previous year, which also directly affected the region.

For a fleeting few moments, director Alexandre Moors and writer R.F.I. Porto captured the icy nihilism of Muhammad and Malvo, the still-hard-to-shake disbelief that it was these two nobodies in a blue beater and not a white van that inspired universal fear around the nation's capital. It's a shame they couldn't sustain it for the duration of the film.