In 2002 there was a spate of sniper attacks in the Washington D.C. area which were headline news across the world, such was the shocking nature of these crimes. The story had started a few months earlier in the Caribbean region of Antigua, where a sixteen-year-old boy, Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond), had been abandoned to live alone in their home by his mother, his father having left the scene a long time ago. Desperate for some form of guidance, he latched on to a newcomer to the area, John Allen Muhammed (Isaiah Washington), who was there with his three young children, and when Lee almost drowned while swimming, possibly deliberately, the older man saved him, sparking a relationship with murderous repercussions...
The subject matter of real life murders is one which has proven fertile enough for filmmakers to return to again and again, and with no end in sight for sensational crimes, it seems a trend that will last as long as the movies do. On the other hand, it does come across as a cheap method of gaining a built-in audience of the prurient who are rather dubiously keen to watch a recreation of some particularly unpleasant events, which was what made Blue Caprice (also known as the less evocative The Washington Snipers when that title apparently proved too oblique to drum up much business) all the more intriguing. In the minds of director Alexandre Moors and screenwriter R.F.I. Porto there was nothing to exploit to this story.
This was why they refused to use any shallow tricks to up the suspense as if creating a generic thriller instead of an account which had a terrible impact on many people's lives, so no pumping music, no cliché stalking sequences building to an explosion of violence, it was all deceptively matter of fact. Those facts were drawn from the real life Lee's testimony so Moors cleaved as close to them as he could, though obviously some dramatic license was necessary, but observing the narrative unfold you had the sense of the film making its points as if going through a checklist of indicators to have the audience understand precisely what went into the manufacture of a couple of serial killers, which could have you thinking you were viewing a cold, clinical report.
Undoubtedly those more used to the over the top versions of true crime tales that proliferated on the television were not going to get on with this, especially if all they wanted to hear was that the killers were one-dimensional monsters, but here things were delved into a lot deeper and with more exacting eye. Not that we were intended to feel any sympathy with the murderers, but crucially we were supposed to understand what made them the way they were, from the corrupt father figure John to the brainwashed, muted but needy Lee. This was conveying the structures necessary to build this kind of criminal, and one without a shred of remorse for their victims, that lack of identifying the humanity in those they picked off with their guns a defining aspect.
Isaiah Washington was almost too charismatic in his role, which illustrated why Lee would be attracted to John's big talk about getting his revenge on society since he was a disenfranchised individual himself; John bears a grudge against the government for taking his kids away and awarding custody to his ex-wife who he plans to execute as part of his murderous schemes. Various aspects of the mentor's personality are alighted upon, with none of them used as the overriding excuse or explanation for his behaviour, such as his love of guns or his conversion to radical Islam, so in fact we get a better idea of how Lee was shaped to become the killer than John, as if the film is not entirely sure of what turns a disgruntled member of the community into someone taking part in the most heinous acts they can concoct. That the sniper murders, carried out from the back of the customised Blue Caprice car they drive, are presented as both low key and undeniably disturbing was a mark in this film's favour, it refused to make entertainment of real life suffering, and that was admirable.