There's a lot of rain in "Blue Caprice," director Alexandre Moors' relentlessly grim take on the Beltway Sniper saga of 2002.
The color throughout "Blue Caprice" is muted. The dialogue is terse and truncated. Everything is open to interpretation, including motives of the principal characters -- an ad hoc family consisting of John (Isaiah Washington), a violent, paranoid U.S. Army veteran, and his "son" Lee, a quiet but intelligent young man he adopts and molds into a remorseless killer.
3 stars = Good
Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond.
R for disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use.
John and Lee are based on John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the men who terrorized the Washington, D.C., metro area for a few weeks a year after 9/11 traumatized the nation. The randomness of their attacks was almost as chilling as the murders themselves because there was no pattern or rationale to them.
In one scene, John tells Lee while strolling casually down a supermarket aisle that people will be looking for a pattern to their carnage. If they shoot men one day, they'll switch to women the next. If the terrified populace thinks women are the target, they'll start shooting children, then pregnant women, then old people.
You get the point. John is a psychopath in love with the anarchy he believes he is stoking. He says he wants to "bring the system down," but you suspect his motives are far more personal.
John believes in spilling blood for its own sake. He tells Lee that they'll retreat to the Canadian border at some point and set up a training camp for killers.
He wants to recruit young men just like Lee to do the same thing in Philly, Chicago and other big cities that they've done in the D.C. area. John wants to usher in an apocalypse of random murder.
Mr. Washington plays the character based on John Muhammad with a persuasive swagger. Paternal pride mixed with a quiet madness dances in his eyes as he lectures his young partner on the fine points of disrupting the social order.
As the sadist who warps and corrupts a lost boy's desire for a father, Mr. Washington is inhabiting his richest role in years. Having said that, there is nothing much to admire or sympathize with in even the most resonant performance of such a despicable character.
As John's lieutenant in chaos, Mr. Richmond plays the character based on Lee Boyd Malvo with eyes that alternate between brief defiance and moral acquiescence. He is remote from the action, even when it is just the two of them discussing unspeakable acts. It is impossible to understand why he follows John's instructions when his own moral compass tells him that it is wrong.
At one point, John takes Lee to the woods and secures him to a tree. The young man is terrified and apologizes for being defiant.
John leaves him there overnight exposed to the elements. It rains. Lee eventually frees himself and walks barefoot through the woods and back to the house where he and John have been crashing.
When he sees his "father" again, no words have to be spoken. He knows he has no choice but to obey the older man's instructions without hesitation.
"Blue Caprice" is an indie film in every sense of the term. It doesn't have an easily digestible moral, but it has a distinctive, non-Hollywood look.
There's nothing slick or mass market about it. The violence is mostly implied, but emotional abuse is rampant in this film. Instead of blood, a chill sparked by the moral listlessness of the characters permeates every frame.
Because the subject matter is so dark and haunting, "Blue Caprice" will never be a likable film, but it is an admirable one.
It is a reminder of the national anxiety that gripped this nation following 9/11, but before we entered Iraq. They were not angels of death attempting to finish from within what terrorists flying airplanes into buildings failed to accomplish.
That would give too much credit to two men who were banal losers most of the time. Only a gun and a willingness to pull the trigger gave their lives any meaning.
Opens today at the SouthSide Works Cinema.
Tony Norman: email@example.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter: @TonyNormanPG. First Published October 4, 2013 4:00 AM