Alexandre Moors is a native of France who has spent the past decade making short films, commercials and music videos, and he has just issued his feature debut, which centers on a distinctly American event: a sniper spree that terrorized a city. His Blue Caprice (opening today at the Glenwood Arts) is not the slick fantasy he normally creates.
The movie follows John Allen Muhammad and the teenage Lee Boyd Malvo, who killed 10 people in the fall of 2002. Moors' film opened to raves at this year's Sundance Film Festival (and played the Kansas International Film Festival last week). Isaiah Washington's turn as Muhammad and Tequan Richmond's performance as Malvo have earned acclaim for the actors.
The Pitch spoke with Moors by phone on a day between the Navy Yard shootings and the high-speed chase that briefly closed down Washington, D.C. - a time when the Beltway sniper attacks didn't feel very long ago.
The Pitch: You chose to show the world as Lee Malvo might have seen the world instead of recounting the sniper crimes as they played out in the media. Why did you take that approach?
Moors: I thought that was pretty much the only approach that would interest me. I thought that looking at the genesis of violence was the way to go, trying to understand this kind of culture of violence that exists in America, that permeates through all the social tissue and the economics. And how this innocent kid gets corrupted and turned into a murderer. It was one way to try and get an understanding of that.
Your film suggests that, if Malvo had had a father figure other than John Allen Muhammad, he might have been able to do something good with his life.
Yeah. The kid was a straight-A student before he met John. When we did research, we went through the court records and had testimonies from his teachers. He was a fervent Catholic kid. The only thing he was missing was a father figure. He just happened to pick the wrong one. His life could have gone in a much different direction had he not met John.
You show him reading a sniper handbook and playing a first-person shooter game, and he has trouble telling the difference between zombies on a screen and flesh and blood.
I think it has something to do with his age and this arrested-development state that he's receiving his education at. To some degree, I think of John as a kid himself. He has the mentality and behavior of a child, where you cannot dissociate your fantasy from reality. That's the world that's fated to him [Malvo], so he doesn't really have the tools to overcome that fantasy that John's presenting to him.
That's true because John refers to people he doesn't like or has ideological differences with as "vampires." They're not even human beings.
Exactly. It's like the language of children. The bad guys are zombies. Nothing is real.
Your music videos for Jennifer Lopez and Niki Minaj are a lot more stylized and formal than what you're doing here. Was it tough for you to change to a more organic narrative?
Not at all. I really see those two as extremely different. I came from a design and fine-art background, so for me, I always have pleasure when I do music video because I always do various aesthetic things and going for just pure aesthetic beauty.
But film is something much different.
I like to say it's much more "field driven." You're not here to make things pretty. You're here to tell the truth. You come from a totally different angle. It's my first film. When I walked onto a set, it jumped at me how different the energy was than when I'm making a music video, which at the end of the day is like a commercial product, and you're here to push records.
Here, the only moral obligation is to tell the truth. I'm old-school - film is a family business. I was very impressed that when you work with actors, you're here to make art. The energy is very different, so the approach that I took was very different.
I didn't storyboard any of the film. It was much more organic. We did a lot of improvisation. The whole process was about finding some higher truth.
With much of the film, you seem to be exploring why these two did such horrible things.
At the end of the day, it is not so much why people make these decisions. The film is constructed in a way so that we never really understand why. I'm not even extremely interested in what tripped John or what pushed him over the edge, but the modern mechanism that leads to the embrace of violence and how it is so banal for people to be in a mental state where it is easy to trip over and turn it into an act.
In the culture that we have, it's easy to embrace violence as a solution for problems. Like John says [in the film], it's not crazy to kill people. We see it on TV every day. It happens on our corners. It's like a legitimate answer, and that's what interests me, that uneventful mechanism, that slow burn.
When they started shooting people I wanted the audience to think, "Wait a minute? How did this all get started?" There is no pivotal moment. There is no turning point. It's just an easy, slippery slope. Once you start following that road, this is where you land because this is the world that we're living in.
When you do depict the violence, it's quick and fleeting - like, oh, they've just ended innocent people's lives.
Absolutely. The graphic depiction of violence was not what interested me. It was the psychological violence, the emotional blackmail the kid was suffering from that is really at the core of the film.
Despite all your research, you and screenwriter R.F.I. Porto would have had to use your imaginations to create the conversations that Muhammad and Malvo have in the film.
Absolutely. It was an interesting game because we had all those cold, hard facts that we gathered but we were going to be missing those intimate relationship with them, so we had to invent that. This is where we took the approach of where, "Look, this is the story of a father and son, so let's have the characters interact like a father and son would do except in a twisted way." It's the father teaching the son how to drive, how to fish, except that everything is geared toward how to kill people. All those scenes are very familiar to us. It's like watching a family in your neighborhood backyard.
Do you think that coming from France gave you a different perspective on America that you present in the film?
I was not in the States when the real events happened, so I was a little bit oblivious to all the media frenzy. That gave me the liberty to tackle such a subject because I hadn't been contaminated by the media coverage.
I felt free to use that story, to shape it into my own view. Being a foreigner sometimes gives you that liberty to have a fresh look at a situation, but I've been living here for more than 10 years. I have two little daughters that are growing up in Brooklyn, so the issue of violence in America is something that concerns me directly, and I needed to tackle that as an artist.
In Charlie Chaplin's Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin, who plays a serial killer in the film, says, "One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify, my good fellow." Do you think in some ways, our culture has institutions that make John Allen Muhammad develop the way he did?
I love your reference, man - which is an American film on a French subject, by the way.
The core of Blue Caprice is that, whether you like it or not, America is breeding violence. It's in its DNA, and it's in its history. I was in D.C. last week to show the film, and I opened the paper and on the first page people were debating whether we should bomb Syria, which would be, like, the eighth country in the Middle East that we've attacked in the last 10 years. This was discussed as a very rational debate to have.
On the other page, people will argue how it is necessary to cut food stamps for the growing number of poor people who are living in America. That was outrageous. In black and white, it's obvious to see that the death instinct is much stronger than the life instinct in America. It's easier to accept violence than to accept the idea that we should help our fellow countrymen in need. It's something that's profound in the psychology of the country.