CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Frustrating Distance Travelled by ‘Blue Caprice’
CHICAGO – Alexandre Moors’ “Blue Caprice” presents no easy answers to a situation that likely doesn’t have any. I get that. I don’t need a traditional, TV-movie dissection of the D.C. sniper. However, Moors’ complete refusal to give the viewer anything substantial to hold on to in this stylish telling of a dark story pushed me out of the film both times I saw it, first at Sundance and then again more recently. Both times, I found the film as surface-level as its title, the description of the vehicle driven by its villains. The movie never gets beyond the most iconic image that gives it a name; never digging deep enough into these characters to register as something human instead of a filmmaking experiment.
It’s not for want of trying by the great Isaiah Washington, the best reason to see “Blue Caprice.” The controversial “Grey’s Anatomy” star does the best work of his career as John Allen Muhammad, a charismatic ex-con who increasingly believes that the world is conspiring against him. He’s a classic paranoid, starting with criticisms of his ex-wife and moving to obsession with all forms of a society that he feels has kept him down. He’s not just unlucky. He’s not to blame in any of the failures of his life. The world is literally working against him. Washington brilliantly conveys this kind of mental decay in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative or exaggerated. It’s captivating.
Photo credit: IFC Films
Muhammad’s magnetic personality drew in the young Lee Boyd Malvo (Tequan Richmond), who saw the elder gentleman as a missing father figure. Muhammad poisoned Malvo’s mind to the point that he saw no flaws in his increasingly deranged worldview, one that led to a series of sniper attacks in the DC area. The story went that the attacks were designed to hide the execution of Muhammad’s ex-wife. She’d be seen as one more victim of the madmen. But Muhammad and Malvo’s distrust for authority could have led to many more victims and true anarchy in the nation’s capital.
Why do people kill? What draws an innocent young man to partner with a killer to the degree that he even took responsibility for the shootings to protect him? “Blue Caprice” never answers the key questions in its true story, choosing instead to shoot it like an early David Gordon Green film, complete with Terrence Malick-esque shots of the beautiful scenery of Antigua (where the two met) and an aesthetic style that constantly calls attention to itself. Moors feels like he’s not interested in the realism of the story, taking a more poetic approach when a prose one is what the story demands. I’m not sure the purpose of a film this beautiful being made about a serial killer.
Photo credit: IFC Films
Don’t mistake my criticism. I’m not one of those guys who demands realism from all cinema. I defended “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” from those people. But I do need something human to hold on to when a film is tackling such important personal dynamics as “Blue Caprice.” Muhammad & Malvo have been turned from paranoid killers into aesthetic parts of an art movie. I find it jarring as it puts a distance between the truth of what happened and what I’m supposed to take away from the movie. I kept trying to figure these people out. I get that Moors’ film may be arguing that we never will and never can fully understand monsters like these. But then why try?