Northwest's role in D.C. sniper case told in film 'Blue Caprice'

Film showing in Bellingham this week

THE NEWS TRIBUNE (TACOMA)October 8, 2013 

Picture yourself in a car on a freeway. For once, the traffic is decent. You're cruising, zoning.

The car just ahead is nothing fancy — average, blue, American, anonymous.

Slow that image down. Watch it again, the anonymous car ahead.

Not worth a glance. The blue car rolls a clean driving line, rock-solid — but watch it again.

Something feels wrong.

The image lingers like a bad dream in "Blue Caprice," a film named for a car and driven by waking nightmares: the Beltway snipers, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo.

Their killing spree panicked the Washington, D.C., area 11 years ago — but their roots trace to Bellingham and to Tacoma, where the anguished and unbalanced Muhammad turned the teenaged Malvo into an instrument of death.

More than half the film is set in Tacoma, though writer-director Alexandre Moors has never visited. The "Tacoma" scenes were shot in Staten Island, N.Y.; Moors scouted locations for the proper level of grit.

Audience warning: This is not an action movie. It's a warped tale of a failed father and a fatherless son. "Blue Caprice" flows like a trance. The frightening moments — some nearly unbearable — are the quietest.

Isaiah Washington plays Muhammad. His performance is irresistible: by turns sly, sexy, cold and obsessed. Tequan Richmond plays Malvo. The film runs through his eyes. He barely speaks. He doesn't have to.

"Blue Caprice" is playing at the Pickford Film Center's LimeLight Cinema in Bellingham through Thursday. It's the feature debut for Moors, who spoke with The News Tribune.

Question: Watching this film brought back memories. Our newspaper covered the events as they happened 11 years ago. Obviously you couldn't tell every aspect of the story. How did you pick and choose your moments?

Answer: We chose to really take on the father-and-son relationship — and have a movie that shows the culture of violence that exists in America from the point of view of this young one (Malvo), how he has been turned and groomed. The father was interesting to me. We approached these broader subjects in a very intimate setting.

Q: What sort of research did you do in preparation?

A: We (Moors co-wrote the screenplay with Ronnie Porto) did a quite a bit of research. We looked at all the court documents, medical records. We had quite an understanding of where those characters came from. We also really looked closely at some of the crime scenes in the D.C. area — we tried to put ourselves in their shoes.

From the beginning, what really attracted me to this project is that very notion that there would be gaps in that storyline. The film is constructed like a puzzle with missing pieces — the idea that no matter how you try you can never know why — you have to take leaps of faith.

Q: Roughly two-thirds of the film is set in Tacoma, though you used other locations to double for that setting. Why did you choose to tell so much of the story here?

A: Obviously Tacoma is the beginning. I was not able to reach Tacoma. I'm certainly hoping that it looks somewhat accurate. From the beginning when we started writing, we were thinking about how it all started. How did this thing begin to happen? There was a version, the first version of the draft, where we didn't even go to Washington, D.C. We ended when they got in the car.

Q: And that reflects your interest in the relationship between the two men, and the sort of training of Malvo, which took place around here.

A: It's also the story of how the two of them affected each other. This never would have taken place if they hadn't found each other. They both had some element that kind of mixed together like a deadly alchemy.

Q: In the film, Muhammad and Malvo stay at a friend's house for a long time before they head to D.C. This friend and his family are an invention of sorts — a combination of several real people. I suppose you have to make those kinds of choices for practical reasons.

A: Correct. The way the story was built — we didn't want them to just hop into different people's lives. We took elements from many of the people that John visited. Some of them were their close friends, those families with children. For me, the idea was the movie was very much like an analogy — kind of a portrait of a normal American family that is just visited by those two strangers.

Q: You spent a lot of time building up to the first killing here in Tacoma — the murder of Keenya Cook, who was shot on her doorstep by Malvo.

A: The first shooting is in many aspects the most important, also the most cinematic. We couldn't figure out how the kid agreed to do that. Everything started there.

Q: And immediately after that, you show Malvo playing with a baby in a kitchen, a picture of innocence. That moment was striking.

A: That's the core of the film. How can one person be both? That's what we're not used to seeing. When people were reading the script, they could not understand: How can you show him being kind to a baby afterwards?

Look, this is what really happened. He was longing to be a normal person — there was a track record that he was really affectionate with kids. Those contrasts are what is really heartbreaking. You can be both at once. John can be at once a loving father and this murderer. The father-son relationship, the emotional blackmail, the torture — those emotions are so close to one another.

Q: You could have taken this film in another direction, toward a more conventional tone that we associate with action movies. Clearly you aimed for a different direction and mood. How did you make those choices?

A: The whole film was conceived and shot as if we were like neighbors to those characters. Everything is unfolding in a very ordinary, uneventful way — and it's just the accumulation of the details that make it more and more disturbing. I think this was a way to say something about the violence that breeds within society in the backyard. It's not extraordinary. It's ordinary. That was a deliberate approach.

SHOWING AT LIMELIGHT CINEMA

"Blue Caprice" is playing at the Pickford Film Center's LimeLight Cinema, 1416 Cornwall Ave., in Bellingham through Oct. 10. Buy tickets at the box office; show times below.

Tuesday: 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday: 6:30.

Thursday: 6:30.

WATCH TRAILER FOR "BLUE CAPRICE"

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service