In search of answers for why a man and his surrogate son terrorized Washington, D.C., with a sniper rifle in October 2002, Blue Caprice proffers an intimate portrait devoid of sympathy. Director Alexandre Moors shoots his drama with a dreamy malevolence that’s highly attuned to both the increasing distress of its protagonists, Isaiah Washington’s father figure and Tequan Richmond’s young acolyte, and the horror they wrought on the nation’s capital. A formally assured character study, its acute visual compositions—agitated close-ups, constricting framing—constantly reflect or comment upon its characters’ internal and external circumstances, first in Antigua, where Washington takes Richmond’s abandoned teen under his wing, and later in America, where he teaches him to embrace his anger and resentment at a world that’s offered him little but loneliness and despair.
Once in the D.C. Beltway area, Washington indoctrinates Richmond with a general rage at society that stems from his own fury over losing his kids, whom he’s originally seen with in Antigua (thanks to a short-lived kidnapping), and who now reside with their mother in locations kept secret from Washington. That loss drives Washington to embrace Richmond who, having been left to fend for himself by his mother, desperately clings to this proxy daddy in return. The result is a relationship rooted in shared twisted need. In scenes of the two men running intensely through the woods, or brutally sparring in forest clearings, what emerges is a depiction of the way in which kids, when desperate for parental affection and acceptance, can be convinced through a combination of violent intimidation and “we’re alone in this together” nurturing to do just about anything.
In this case, that’s cold-blooded murder, perpetrated from the back of the titular car’s trunk (with a rifle borrowed from Washington’s pal Tim Blake Nelson) and carried out in the name of Washington’s amorphous desire to stir up anarchy so that those he sees around him—in grocery stores, in parking lots—will have their comfortable “house of cards” lives irrevocably shaken up. If those motivations seem chaotic, Moors and writer Ronnie Porto create a lucid atmosphere of simmering dissatisfaction and disorder that’s compelling and convincing. The two are further aided by charismatic turns from their leads, with Washington oozing malevolent, abusive psychosis, and Richmond displaying a quiet confusion and animosity that ultimately blossoms into amoral viciousness.
While TV glimpses of war in Afghanistan and radio broadcasts about America’s WWII atomic bombing unsubtly attempt to couch Washington and Richmond’s reign of terror as a natural outgrowth—and continuation—of national hostility, Blue Caprice otherwise proves a deft mood piece, one that probes its characters’ states of mind while remaining wholly unmoved by their grievances and hang-ups. From its opening Caribbean scenes to its final journey alongside the Blue Caprice—with Washington and Richmond’s crimes made all the more terrifying by the director’s decision to dramatize them obliquely—the film captures not only the mercilessness of the duo’s murders, but of the deformed and deadly hate that can blossom when a child in crisis falls under the wing of an adult wracked by resentful madness.