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Entries in Blue Caprice [2013] (1)

Thursday
Sep262013

Blue Caprice (2013)

Performance Enhancement

Like There Will Be Blood before it, Blue Caprice demonstrates the power of great acting to transform a mediocre film into something special. In telling the story of the so-called "Beltway Snipers" (who killed and wounded thirteen people in Washington, DC, Maryland, and Virginia) director Alexandre Moors and writer Ronnie Porto (mostly) downplay the sensationalism and focus instead on the bizarrely twisted mentor/student relationship between a bitter divorcé and the impressionable minor he molds into an killer. The strongest parts of the direction and screenplay can be summed up in a few seconds, but the real reason to see this film is a pair of powder-keg performances by Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond.

Washington plays John, a seemingly carefree dad living in Jamaica with his young children. His fun-filled trips to the beach catch the attention of Lee (Richmond), a latch-key teenager whose mom is too busy with work and men to pay him much mind. John takes Lee in, and we flash forward five months to the two of them dropping in on John's girlfriend, Angela (Cassandra Freeman). It becomes clear very quickly that John is charming, charismatic, and completely unhinged, emotionally: he obsesses over his ex-wife, who has claimed full custody of the kids, following John's not-so-cute stunt of fleeing the states with them.

Lee follows his new guardian around quietly. Whether he's unfazed by Jon's mood swings and rants against society, or if he's simply too distracted by the access to an exotic culture provided by his crazy meal-ticket, we're never quite sure. It's clear that Richmond was raised with some semblance of morals, but John rubs them away gradually through guilt, intimidation, and a dictator's charisma.

Enter Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), an old army buddy of John's who takes in the wandering duo when Angela kicks them out. Ray loves hunting and drinking, and is only too happy to help introduce the shy teen to both--while John carries on a long-time affair with his wife, Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams). Lee is an ace shot with a rifle, it turns out, and John sees him as the first soldier in the march towards anarchy. While grocery shopping, he monologues a twisted fantasy about killing six people a day for a month, changing the victims' profiles at random to maximize the terror. Ray and Jamie prove to be the perfect hosts, dim-witted and libertarian to a "T", they are so wrapped up in minding their own business that they can't see the threat brewing in their own home until it's too late; even then, their machismo-masked cowardice keeps them from potentially saving lives.

I may have been unkind in referring to Blue Caprice as a "mediocre movie". It's a fine dramatic patchwork anchored by strong performances and weighty issues that are implied rather than spelled out. But at ninety minutes, it feels incomplete. Whereas Prisoners, for example, features an overstuffed cast laboring over a rail-thin script for two-and-a-half hours, it feels as though an hour of rich, understated material was excised from Moors' film for some reason. That works in the beginning, as we're left to fill in the back-story of how John and Lee got back to America, and how the kidnapping story panned out. But we're given little time to process Lee's first murder before skipping ahead to the middle of the sniper rampage.

Mostly, we see the aftermath and the slow, confused reaction of the people surrounding the victims. But in presenting one particular killing, Moors reveals a nasty streak that almost soured me to the whole picture. The assassination vignettes stop briefly as we follow a pregnant lady, who finishes some shopping and heads outside. In this moment, parents especially will feel the chest-clenching "Don't Do It!" horror common in slasher movies. Alas, this character is a diversion, a cheap cheat to get our blood pumping as another shopper walking next to her gets shot instead.

Luckily, the film ends on a high note--which is to say an acting high, but a dramatic downer. Arrested, tried, and imprisoned, Lee meets with an attorney to discuss his case. Actually, she discusses, and he glowers. Despite months of abuse and brainwashing, and a non-existent future hanging over his head, Lee's only concern while serving multiple life sentences is being able to see John on death row.

Recommending Blue Caprice as a theatrical experience is difficult. Beautifully shot by Brian O'Carroll, the film bursts with life and brims with danger. At its core, though, is an actor's piece that takes place mostly in homes, woods, and cars. It lacks There Will Be Blood's oil-boom grandeur, but Washington and Richmond will captivate you with their portrayal of mentally unstable, righteously convicted men who channel disappointment, jealousy, and a need for attention into something truly ghoulish. I don't know if either actor will be remembered come awards time, but I'll never forget their tremendous work in this small, engaging movie.

Chicagoans! Starting this Fridayyou can catch Blue Caprice at the Music Box Theatre on Southport.