Most movies based on real-life crimes try to recreate the events in painstaking detail, so we understand exactly what happened and why. Blue Caprice, director Alexandre Moors’ drama about the 2002 Beltway sniper murders, takes a different approach. The movie opens in Antigua, where the teenaged Lee (Tequan Richmond) watches helplessly as his mother leaves home in search of work, promising to return for him. Bored, lonely and nearly destitute, Lee wanders the island and spots John (Isaiah Washington) frolicking on the beach with his three young children.
John, who is an American tourist, appears to be a doting father — his kids adore him — and Lee gravitates towards the stranger, trying to fill the void left by his absent mom. John takes the boy in and begins to treat him as a son. He takes the kid back home with him to Tacoma, where John lives with his girlfriend. And then, gradually, a darker side of the genial man begins to appear. He talks about the world being filled with evil people (he calls them vampires). He takes everything anyone says as a personal affront. His bitterness over a custody battle with his ex-wife has consumed him. With the help of his gun-crazy pal (Tim Blake Nelson), John teaches Lee how to shoot a sniper rifle. And when his girlfriend has had enough of John’s slovenly ways and kicks him out of her house, something horrible inside the man snaps.
Unlike most actors, who traditionally try to find something in the characters they’re playing to identify with, Washington ( Grey’s Anatomy) doesn’t try to humanize John or make him comprehensible. Instead, he surrenders to the man’s hatred and anger, refusing to put a recognizable face on unfathomable evil. After he forces Lee to prove himself by committing a murder, he looks at the boy proudly and says “I’ve created a monster.” By the time they set out on their killing spree, shooting random people from their car around the Washington area, there’s no trace of humanity left in John’s eyes. Blue Caprice only spends a few minutes reenacting their crime — the movie shows us exactly how they did it in just a couple of scenes — because the facts of the case aren’t the movie’s focus. Instead, this lyrical, frightening film is a portrait of a man consumed by self-hatred who decided to take it out on the world. “The beauty is, even if we lose, we still wake people up,” John tells Lee. “We still win.” But in this story, there are no winners.