LOS ANGELES — "Blue Caprice" is a disturbing, masterfully controlled thriller based on the 2002 sniper attacks in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The national discussion of mass shootings and gun control stands to heighten the impact of director Alexandre Moors' head-turning debut, which is driven by performances of brooding intensity from Isaiah Washington and Tequan Richmond.
Following a grainy montage of news and surveillance video accompanied by traumatized 911 calls reporting shootings in the D.C. area, the story opens amid the lush island vegetation of Antigua in the Caribbean. A teenage boy, Lee (Richmond), watches in mute fury as his mother leaves their home to take work elsewhere, saying she'll be back for him. But as her absence stretches on, Lee grows bored, frustrated and then desperate, seemingly attempting to drown himself in the rough surf.
He is rescued and taken in by John (Washington), a visiting American whose three young daughters have been removed from their country in violation of a custody agreement. With no word from Lee's mother, John eventually takes him back to Tacoma, Wash.
From early in their relationship, John begins drilling his life-is-unfair views into Lee, whose absence of a father figure renders him highly susceptible to the older man's influence. The bottomless pit of John's anger becomes steadily more apparent back in the U.S., as he takes Lee on a tour of the middle-class suburban neighborhood of his former life. He talks of the evil that lives there, the ghosts left behind, and the vampires like his ex-wife, who sucked him dry. Since their return from Antigua, she has taken out a restraining order against him and removed their children to parts unknown. This gnaws at him like a cancer.
When Lee is taken along with John and his Army buddy Ray (Tim Blake Nelson) to let off steam with some target practice in the woods, he reveals himself to be a natural with a gun. Watching the boy's face the first time a semi-automatic "widow-maker" is placed in his hands is especially disquieting in light of recent events. After John's erratic behavior gets them kicked out by his girlfriend (Cassandra Freeman), they end up staying with Ray and his equally trashy partner Jamie (Joey Lauren Adams), providing access to Ray's arsenal of firearms.
Some of the film's most powerful scenes are brutal interludes in which John subjects his young protege to various tests, leaving him tied to a tree overnight in the woods or forcing him to fight in a systematic campaign to harden the boy and break his moral resistance.
Demanding proof of Lee's love and gratitude, John instructs him to shoot a woman who testified against him during the divorce proceedings. That initiation kick-starts the escalating chain of violence that leads them to the D.C. area, where John has traced his estranged family.
Showing refreshing faith in the audience's ability to connect the dots, Moors employs frequent narrative ellipses and nonlinear editing to strong effect. The film expertly manipulates mood and atmosphere with a muscular sound design that juggles dense textures, uneasy silences, a suspenseful score and striking classical music choices. Visually, too, the work is impressive, with cinematographer Brian O'Carroll's nighttime shots of the Caprice cruising along the Beltway planting an ominous sense of dread.
The randomness of the Beltway killing spree shocked America a decade ago but recedes from the national memory with every new mass shooting. Revisiting that episode, the filmmakers have made a smart, sobering movie that speculates with compelling detachment on how the abhorrent urge to take innocent lives might evolve.
"Blue Caprice," an IFC release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "disturbing violent content, language and brief drug use." Running time: 93 minutes.
MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Naomi Watts and Robin Wright star as two mothers who fall into sexual relationships with each other's sons. (Yep, it's real.)
"Riddick" (Sept. 6)
When Vin Diesel isn't starring in "Fast and Furious" movies, he's playing Riddick.
'Good Ol' Freda' (Sept. 6)
A documentary about The Beatles' famed secretary.
"Salinger" (Sept. 6)
Shane Salerno ("Savages") directs this documentary about the reclusive "Catcher in the Rye" author.
"Winnie Mandela" (Sept. 6)
Jennifer Hudson stars as Nelson Mandela's wife Winnie in this new film, the first of two Mandela features set for release this year.
"The Family" (Sept. 13)
Director Luc Besson's mob comedy stars Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer, because sometimes we're allowed to have nice things.
"Insidious: Chapter 2" (Sept. 13)
"Jayne Mansfield's Car" (Sept. 13)
Billy Bob Thornton's first feature directorial effort since 2001's "Daddy and Them" stars Thornton himself, Kevin Bacon and Robert Duvall.
"Battle Of The Year" (Sept. 20)
Chris Brown made a movie with Sawyer from "Lost." (Real.)
"Prisoners" (Sept. 20)
Hugh Jackman leads an all-star cast (Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo) in this revenge drama from director Denis Villeneuve.
"A Single Shot" (Sept. 20)
Sam Rockwell stars in this thriller, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
"Enough Said" (Sept. 20)
Nicole Holofcener's romantic comedy features James Gandolfini's final role as a leading man. (Gandolfini has a supporting role in the upcoming film "Animal Rescue.") Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Toni Collette and Catherine Keener co-star.
"Thanks For Sharing" (Sept. 20)
Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow star in this dramedy about sex addiction. From Stuart Blumberg, an Oscar nominee for "The Kids Are All Right."
"After Tiller" (Sept. 20)
A controversial documentary about U.S. doctors who still perform third-trimester abortions.
"Parkland" (Sept. 20)
Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti and Zac Efron star in this drama about the immediate aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"C.O.G." (Sept. 20)
Jonathan Groff stars in this new movie, which is based on a story by David Sedaris.
"Rush" (Sept. 20)
Ron Howard's Formula 1 drama casts Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl as, respectively, James Hunt and Niki Lauda, two of the sport's greatest competitors. The film, which is also due to bow at the Toronto International Film Festival, opens wide on Sept. 27.
"Baggage Claim" (Sept. 27)
Paula Patton stars in this rom-com about a flight attendant looking for love. Bonus: <strike>Seth Cohen</strike> Adam Brody as her outlandish confidant.
"Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2" (Sept. 27)
Tying up all the loose ends from part one.
"Don Jon" (Sept. 27)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut is a funny and poignant look at relationships in the age of instantaneous gratification. (Also, porn.) Tony Danza, Julianne Moore and a scene-stealing Scarlett Johansson all co-star.
"Metallica: Through The Never" (Sept. 27)
Enter sandman: Metallica made a concert movie that's not a just a concert movie. Dane DeHaan stars.
"Gravity" (Oct. 4)
Alfonso Cuaron's first film since 2006's "Children of Men" stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts lost in space. One of the year's must-see events.
"Runner Runner" (Oct. 4)
Justin Timberlake takes on an evil Ben Affleck in this new thriller about online gambling. Brad Furman ("The Lincoln Lawyer") directs.
"Captain Phillips" (Oct. 11)
Tom Hanks stars as the title captain in this thriller from Paul Greengrass, which focuses on the 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama. The film will debut at the New York Film Festival.
"Machete Kills" (Oct. 11)
The best cast of the year? "Machete Kills" stars Danny Trejo, Sofia Vergara, Michelle Rodriguez, Cuba Gooding Jr., Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Lady Gaga, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen (as the President of the United States), because of course it does.
"Romeo And Juliet" (Oct. 11)
"Downton Abbey" creator Julian Fellowes adapted this version of Shakespeare's tragic romance.
"CBGB" (Oct. 11)
"Harry Potter" pals Alan Rickman and Rupert Grint reunite for this rock drama.
"Kill Your Darlings" (Oct. 16)
Daniel Radcliffe grows up. The erstwhile Harry Potter plays Allen Ginsberg in this Sundance Film Festival fave.
"The Fifth Estate" (Oct. 18)
Benedict Cumberbatch plays Julian Assange in this new film from Bill Condon ("The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 & 2," "Dreamgirls").
"Paradise" (Oct. 18)
Diablo Cody's directorial debut look good, honest to blog.
"Carrie" (Oct. 18)
No one is going to laugh at Chloe Moretz after this remake of Brian DePalma's horror classic debuts.
"Escape Plan" (Oct. 18)
Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Prison break. See you at the theater.
"All Is Lost" (Oct. 18)
Robert Redford stars as a man struggling to survive after a hole is torn into the hull of his ship. J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call") directs the film, which is expected to give the 76-year-old actor a good chance at an Oscar nomination in 2014.
"Twelve Years A Slave" (Oct. 18)
Chiwetel Ejiofor stars as Solomon Northup, a New York man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and Alfre Woodard star in this new drama from "Shame" director Steve McQueen. The film is based on Northup's acclaimed memoir.
"The Counselor" (Oct. 25)
Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz go bad in Ridley Scott's "The Counselor," based on an original script by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, please.
"Jackass: Bad Grandpa" (Oct. 25)
"Ender's Game" (Nov. 1)
An adaptation of the beloved young adult novel (from non-beloved author Orson Scott Card) stars Hailee Steinfeld, Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Harrison Ford.
"Free Birds" (Nov. 1)
An animated movie about turkeys, "from the Academy Award-winning producer of 'Shrek.'"
"Last Vegas" (Nov. 1)
Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline star in this comedy, which looks like a mix of "The Hangover" and "Grumpy Old Men." Turtle from "Entourage" co-stars, at least for one scene.
"About Time" (Nov. 1)
Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson star in this romantic comedy-cum-time travel drama from "Love Actually" director Richard Curtis. The trailer will make you cry. (The film opens nationwide on Nov. 8.)
"Diana" (Nov. 1)
Naomi Watts stars as Princess Diana in this new biopic.
"How I Live Now" (Nov. 8)
Think "Children of Men" mixed with "The Host." Kevin Macdonald, of "The Last King of Scotland" fame, directs.
"Thor: The Dark World" (Nov. 8)
The sequel to "Thor" looks better than its predecessor in lots of ways, not the least of which being that Tom Hiddleston's Loki is fully unhinged. Petition for Loki spinoff starts here.
"The Best Man Holiday" (Nov. 15)
A sequel to the 1999 film "The Best Man," which serves as further proof that the statute of limitations on part twos is infinite.
"The Book Thief" (Nov. 15)
Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star in this adaptation of Markus Zusak's acclaimed best-selling novel.
"The Wolf Of Wall Street" (Nov. 15)
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill and Matthew McConaughey star in Martin Scorsese's new film, which looks to do for bankers what "Goodfellas" did for mobsters. Expect Oscars and endlessly quotable dialogue.
"Delivery Man" (Nov. 22)
Vince Vaughn, Chris Pratt and Cobie Smulders star in this comedy about a man who fathered 533 children after making donations to a sperm bank.
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (Nov. 22)
"Nebraska" (Nov. 22)
Alexander Payne's latest film casts Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son on a road trip. Expect to read a lot about this between now and the Academy Awards on March 2.
"Black Nativity" (Nov. 27)
Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson and Mary J. Blige star in this new drama, directed by Kasi Lemmons.
"Oldboy" (Nov. 27)
Spike Lee's reinterpretation of Chan-wook Park's classic film stars Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharlto Copley and Elizabeth Olsen.