That evil is banal is a commonplace, a starting point for any serious discussion about the violence in our world. Killers are no different from most of us; hatred is a communicable disease; we are all malleable and subject to being influenced by those we seek to please. It’s only in the movies that monsters appear fearsome.
How much of writer-director Alexandre Moors’ first feature is true is difficult to say and may be frustrating to viewers who are looking for a procedural recap of the infamous crimes. Instead, it is an impressionistic if matter-of-fact work with a stuttering that declines to provide the usual markers of time and place. If you know the basic story - that 40-year-old John Allen Muhammad met 14-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo in Antigua in 1999 and subsequently brought him to the United States (to Florida and then Washington before setting out on a cross-country campaign of terror) - then you might be able to deduce where the pair are at any particular point of their journey. But the chronology really isn’t important. What’s fascinating is the plausibility of the education Lee receives at the hands of John, how this grim sensei inculcates him in the ways of murder, convincing him that “it’s not crazy to kill people, they do it every day.” John thinks that killing a white person a day, every day for a month, might bring about some sort of vague political change and Lee is in no position to argue.
Moors chooses to tell the story strictly from the perspective of the two perpetrators so we have no scenes of the police searching for them or fretting over where they’ll strike next. Instead, we hang out with the surrogate father and son, and understand the authenticity of the arrangement and its essential rottenness. John is a perpetual victim, a man who is competent in many areas but embittered by his divorce and what he understands as the unfairness of life. Lee is just another lost boy adopted by a poor role model. Against your better instincts, you might find yourself aligning with them.
Both roles are well-acted, with Isaiah Washington supplying John with a kind of rakish charm that offsets his general aura of bad news. We can almost understand how this unlikely pair passed through our society without drawing much attention. Even when the cops stop them, they don’t recognize the murderous potential.
Rounding out the cast are (the wonderful actors) Tim Blake Nelson and Joey Lauren Adams as a couple who, for a while, draw John and Lee into their own family orbit. Whether or not these characters have any real world counterparts I cannot say (the review link for the film arrived just a few hours before this review was filed, making it impossible to review the details of the actual case), but their function in the film is clear. They are the rest of us, enabling and abetting the murders, giving them comfort and succor, while remaining clueless to the dark potentialities to which they’ve become complicit.
Blue Caprice 90 Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Leo Fitzpatrick Director: Alexandre Moors Rating: R, for disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use Running time: 90 minutes