DC at Night

DC at Night

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Film Look Inside the DC Beltway Sniper Spree

Whenever there is a horror that displays the darkest sides of human behavior, there is always the question why.

Eleven years ago this month, the DC area was terrified by a series of coordinated shootings that left 10 innocent people dead. That rampage was perpetrated by one man, John Allen Muhammad and one teenage minor, Lee Boyd Malvo. The pair drove from murder site to murder site in a customized blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice that allowed Malvo to fire unseen from inside the car trunk.

This past weekend a new film Blue Caprice, inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks, premiered in Washington. The 93-minute movie attempts, in a surprisingly tasteful way given the subject matter, to reveal the social and psychological flaws that drove Muhammad, who was executed by lethal injection in 2009, and his protege Malvo, who is serving 6 consecutive life sentences with no chance of parole, to commit their hideous killing spree.

Following a Saturday night showing at the West End Cinema, lead actor Isaiah Washington appeared in a Skype interview call to answer questions about the film from the media and audience members.

"Today we all are suffering from cultural violence. Everyone is victimized; we are all touched by it and rendered powerless," Washington said. "There's nowhere to run and hide. We want people to watch this film and go home and talk about it. Violence happens over and over and over and over again. We have to talk about it. We can't walk away shrugging our shoulders".

Washington said everyone involved with the film wanted to present an accurate portrait of the perpetrators of violence, but not glorify them or even create sympathy for them. He said that when he was researching the real John Allen Muhammad he found many psyche flaws and personal traits that would "chill you to the bone".

There are many themes examined in the film, but 5 stand out. They are:

  • the horrific actions that can come from alienation and isolation
  • the damage to a young person victimized twice, first by no parenting and then even more drastically by bad parenting and leadership
  • what can happen when the psychologically damaged feel they are completely powerless
  • the desensitizing impact of a gun culture
  • and the effects that ensue when people become complacent with that cultural violence
Washington on the Skype screen
Only half-jokingly, Washington said that playing such a dark role left him "on a psychiatrist's couch for a few weeks". He said one of the most difficult scenes for him to play was leaving his protege and film "son," tied up and abandoned in the woods. "What you see in the film is an actor running away to cry. I told the director that I would only do that scene once," the actor said.

Washington was effusive in his praise for 20-year-old Tequan Richmond, the actor who convincingly plays the severely damaged, fictionalized version of Malvo. "This is a 20-year-old who gets it," Washington said. "I felt like I was curbside watching a star being born".

The decision not to show any of Muhammad's Islamic affiliations was deliberate on the part of filmmakers.  
"We didn't want people to go down that rabbit  hole," Washington said, explaining that the film is about characters, not any views of Muslims.

"We wanted to speak on some very difficult subjects. And if we got it right, if we told the truth, we might change some minds ... maybe even save someone," Washington said.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
As with any movie based on real-life events, the impacts are somewhat more personal than a story of pure fiction. For example, our son Michael was living in the Washington area at the time.  He even got gas at one of the sites of the shooting. I will always remember the worry for his safety I felt at the time. Even though she is an avid movie buff, Barbara Rew spoke for many area residents when she said "I don't think I can see this film after having lived through the experience". Even non-DC-area residents who had some connection share Rew's view. "I won't be watching this movie. I was terrified when we went to Maryland. We used Rt. 40 instead of 95; it was too scary. Very few news reports have scared me like this one," says Jersey resident Karole King.

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