December 5, 2013 -- If this was a work of fiction, it would be hard to believe, but it is based on fact. This film is a drama based on the 2002 Beltway shootings in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and other related shootings in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington State that killed a total of 17 people and injured many others.
The story begins on Antigua, in the Caribbean, where teenager Lee Malvo (played by Tequan Richmond of “Ray”), hungry and alone, spots a man playing with children. Lee's mother had abandoned him. The man, John, seems to be friendly and generous to the children. Lee follows the group down to the beach, then goes into the water, seemingly to commit suicide. John (played by Isaiah Washington of “Ghost Ship”) saves him and the two become friends, with John telling everyone that Lee is his son.
John, an American citizen, takes Lee back to America with him. John is very angry about a divorce settlement which gives him no visitation rights to see his children. He also has a restraining order preventing him from visiting his ex-wife and children. He doesn't know where they live, but he keeps trying to find them.
With no visible means of support, John begins to pressure Lee to commit armed robberies. Living with a friend, Ray (played by Tim Blake Nelson of “Lincoln”) who owns a collection of guns, Lee learns to shoot accurately. Ray calls Lee “a natural” marksman. Eventually, John and Lee get enough money from armed robberies to buy a car. John has a plan to randomly kill people in order to create a reign of terror. He cuts a hole in the back of the blue Caprice car and creates a space in the back seat and trunk where a sniper can shoot from a concealed prone position inside the car.
Lee can be heard reading from a book about how snipers are used in war as part of an overall military strategy. The movie doesn't spend a lot of time on the actual murders. The focus of the film is on the strange father-son relationship between John and Lee and how John's behavior becomes increasingly unstable and hostile. John is sometimes abusive to Lee. In one scene, he ties Lee to a tree in the forest. It is some kind of test. Lee must free himself.
This story is told matter-of-factly without sentiment or drama. Many questions are left unanswered. In real life, John Allen Muhammad was executed for his part in the killings. Lee Malvo, 17 at the time of his arrest was sentenced to multiple life terms in prison. Malvo claimed he was sexually abused by John. His insanity plea was denied.
A $2.5 million legal settlement was reached between victim's families (represented by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence) and the Bushmaster Firearms Corporation, which makes the Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, and Bulls Eye Shooter Supply, which sold the rifle to John (neither John nor Lee were legally qualified to purchase such a weapon).
In the film, John's murderous rage seems to be fueled by social and economic inequalities in the U.S. He resents people living comfortably, while he and Lee are essentially homeless. If that was a real reason for the shootings, and I don't know if it is or not, then it is a wonder there aren't more shootings like this. There are a lot of mass shootings in this country, maybe this sort of social class resentment is a factor in many of them. This kind of shooting spree makes you wonder.
This is a low-key film with a deliberate pace. It is dark and chilling in its atmosphere with danger lurking all along the way. It depicts two people on the outside looking in with anger and hunger and evil intent. This film rates a B.
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