Blue Caprice (2013)
Dir: Alexandre Moor
Scr: R.F.I. Porto
Covering the episode from Muhammad's (Isaiah Washington) informal adoption of Malvo (Tequan Richmond) through to their imprisonment, French director Alexandre Moor's début film explores the warped father-son relationship that underpinned the coordinated killings. Blue Caprice rarely deviates from the point of view of the shooters and bravely chooses to engender empathy rather than moral judgement. In doing so, the film offers a restrained and insightful character study on how Muhammad's righteous self-victimisation and knotted ideology was passed from surrogate father to surrogate son. Both Washington and Richmond deliver fantastic performances of these equally complicated characters, conveying the dissonance in the mind of each with pitch-perfect naturalism.
Marvo and Muhammad are bonded by their mutual disconnection from society and family, things they want to be part of but also tear down. Muhammad, traumatised after losing custody of his children, uses Marvo's moral confusion and craving for paternal love as an empty vessel for his hate. With his protege's skills as triggerman, Muhammad constructs what he sees as the perfect crime for the dispossessed and disillusioned like himself, a chaos in which everyone becomes like him: “The beauty is, even if we lose, we still wake people up, we still win.”
D.C. and its environs were chosen by Muhammad in line with his disturbed revolutionary philosophy and, although it is not a central concern of the film, politics is not ignored. As the events take place during the second year of the war in Afghanistan, news reports of bombings and army recruitment drives appear, and the relevance of post-911 fear and paranoia is neatly positioned. Radio shows blare out warnings about the 'corruption' of America and the judgement to come, and a mood of barely contained violence slowly emerges. The film doesn't present the shootings as particularly symptomatic of this climate, but indicates that incubation for male aggression is commonplace and that the unbridled fear of the time was part of the shooters' camouflage. After the first shooting, Muhammad declares that, like the military sniper, they are now invisible.
Irish cinematographer Brian O'Carroll's work is used effectively to highlight the separation between the shooters and domestic order. The homes, such as that of Muhammad's ex-wife and estranged children, that the killers watch from outside are warm with a soft, orange glow that stands in strong contrast to the blue-steel of the temporary accommodation they drift in and out of. Additionally, economical use of bold visual gestures, such as the camera crossing the line of action after Marvo's initial murder, communicate much with little. Sound design and music are also uniformly excellent. Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld's soundtrack evokes Malvo's loss of innocence and the spiralling madness of Muhammad with quiet, mellow arrangements interrupted by mournful, pulsing bursts of saxophone. A particularly inspired use of sound occurs as Muhammad raves against the 'ghosts' and 'vampires' during a tour of his old neighbourhood. As he struggles to restrain his rage, visibly formulating his plans for murder as he talks, background sounds of suburban routine - lawnmower, barking dog – build in a awkward crescendo.
As the blue Caprice drifts slowly towards the sites of the shootings like a funeral cortege, there are tense montages of non-descript parking lots and petrol stations turned quickly into crime scenes. The murders, though, are tastefully shown and most violence happens off-screen. Only one shooting is shown in any graphic detail, occurring at a clinic, and much anxiety is wrought from the camera's slow movement across the pregnant bellies of women, target unknown, as Muhammad's premonitory words come back to haunt: “Shoot a woman. When they think it’s women, shoot a kid. When they think it’s kids, shoot a pregnant woman.” The casual way the cinematography deals with largely unidentifiable victims before the shots ring out is an elegant method of placing us in the shooters' mindset and makes the skin crawl.
The film takes the facts of the real crimes and positions them along a line of coherence that threads through the chaos of the shootings. There is no justification for the shootings, Blue Caprice argues, but human thinking can be found in this ostensibly cold-blooded purposelessness. Much like the similarly bleak and realistic Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Blue Caprice sifts through the wreckage of seemingly incomprehensible and monstrous crimes for what humanity can be found. To do so, Moor and Porto wisely avoid diving deep into the cod Jihadist, Black-survivalist philosophy of Muhammad. Instead, there is a scattering of references to suggest that the philosophy espoused is more a cobbled together justification for wrath and madness than a concrete reason for the killings. While Muhammad's mind is a rabbit-hole, Malvo's psychology is more easily grasped. Sitting in chains and an orange prison jumpsuit, Malvo is confronted with photographs of his victims and asked by his social worker for the reasoning behind the apparently random killings. The media is calling the shootings “senseless”, she says, “but there's got to be a reason.” Money, revenge and belief are all suggested and denied. Perhaps an answer, the film posits, is found in a question in return from Malvo: “Where's my father?”
By Kieran Gosney