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'Blue Caprice' review: The war at home

Matt Pais, @mattpais

RedEye movie critic

September 26, 2013

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*** (out of four)

I almost hope someone organizes a mini-festival of 2013’s three movies with “Blue” in the title, simply because they have so little else in common. First there was Woody Allen’s entertaining class study “Blue Jasmine;” later in the year comes “Blue is the Warmest Color,” the Cannes-winning, three-hour, NC-17-rated French lesbian drama; now it’s “Blue Caprice,” a harrowing thriller inspired by the 2002 D.C.-area sniper attacks.

That it’s been a little more than a week since the killings at the D.C. Navy Yard—and, on a related but not identical note, about five minutes since the latest shooting in Chicago—pretty much answers the hypothetical “Why now?” that anyone could pose to the film, which directly addresses neither gun control nor mental health. Instead, the issues hang above “Blue Caprice” like an ominous, unseen cloud. Isaiah Washington, a long way from “Grey’s Anatomy,” plays John, a man seemingly suffering undiagnosed PTSD and consumed by resentment both specific (toward his ex-wife, for taking his kids and filing a restraining order) and general. After bringing 16-year-old Lee (Tequan Richmond), a boy from Antigua without any adult guidance, under his wing, John gradually/ironically begins preaching to this blank slate about “evil people in this world” and the vulnerability of society, which just needs “a little push” to tilt into chaos. John’s army pal Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) helps teach Lee to shoot, and John, Lee’s surrogate father, repeatedly muses about the importance of fighting back. “It’s not crazy to kill people,” he says. “[The military does] it every day.”

Director Alexandre Moors doesn’t reach the haunting poetry of Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant,” and it’s worth considering if a documentary on these attacks would prove more comprehensive. Yet the moody, minimal “Blue Caprice” doesn’t exploit and, unlike the unusual recent doc “The Act of Killing,” never pays undue attention to murderers while ignoring victims. “Caprice” wonders how something like this happens without suggesting any simple means of prevention.

It’s staggering to think how many more people have died just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

John, and eventually Lee, comes off as a scary person but always a person, driven by emotion and an extreme, terrifying agenda. He’s a powerless man suddenly ruling the world, seeking deliberate invisibility rather than having it forced upon him. That it still seems like anyone could commit this crime, and anyone could be in the line of fire, makes it feel like John’s intended wake-up call didn’t work. Like John’s beaten but still-functioning car itself, Moors seems to say, there are many people in far from mint condition, with no one checking under their hoods.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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