“Despite its stars giving mesmerizing performances, failed to entertain or educate us more about psychopathic serial killers.”

(director/writer: Alexandre Moors; screenwriter: R.F. I. Porto/based on a story by Mr. Moors and Mr. Porto; cinematographer: Brian O’Carroll; editors: Alexandre Moors/Gordon Grinberg; music: Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld; cast: Isaiah Washington (John Allen Muhammed), Tequan Richmond (Lee Malvo), Tim Blake Nelson (Ray), Joey Lauren Adams (Jamie), Leo Fitzpatrick (Arms Dealer), Cassandra Freeman (Angela); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating:R; producers: Alexandre Moors/Will Rowbotham/Kim Jackson/Stephen Tedeschi/Mr. O’Carroll/Ron Simons/Isen Robbins/Aimee Schoof; IFC FILMS; 2012)

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Feature film debut of New York residing French filmmaker Alexandre Moors is a well-executed but difficult to watch thriller that’s based on a true story by Moors and R.F. I. Porto. It takes educated guesses at what was in the heads of the father and surrogate son killers behind the horrific 2002 Beltway random sniper attacks perpetrated by the twisted brooding father John Allen Muhammed (Isaiah Washington) and the manipulated, psychologically-dependent, 17-year-old Lee Malvo (Tequan Richmond). Their three-week killing spree left ten dead in the area of D.C., Maryland and Virginia, and sent fear across that wide stretch until they were apprehended in a manhunt.

The pic tries to explain the monstrous behavior by an embittered John, in the midst of a custody battle with his wife, who goes bonkers when his kids, after he kidnaps them and takes them to Antigua, are sent by the court back to his wife. With his real kids gone, John brings teenager Malvo, a native of Antigua, living on his own when mom abandons him, back to the States and treats him as family. They reside for awhile in Tacoma, Washington, where the two live with a white rifle-loving military buddy of Muhammad’s, Ray (Tim Blake Nelson), who practice together target shooting. Meanwhile John cooks up a dangerous irrational scheme to get back at the system he believes screwed him.

The violence begins when John encourages the taciturn and obedient Malvo to prove his loyalty to him by killing a woman neighbor who testified against him in his bitter child-custody case. Malvo, a crack shot, passes the test with flying colors and the rest is bad history, as the duo ride around the D.C. area in their blue Chevy Caprice looking for vics to gun down with their high-powered Bushmaster rifle.

It’s a blood-curdling story ripped from the newspaper headlines, that despite its stars giving mesmerizing performances, failed to entertain or educate us more about why the psychopathic serial killers did what they did. Its chilling story brought little to our attention that wasn’t already reported by the media and seeing it again played out was only more disturbing–doing no one any good. To its credit, the filmmaker never yields to sensationalism, and in a tastefully and in a subdued way films the killings and arrest.

Of note, John was executed in 2009, and Malvo is serving a series of consecutive life sentences. Both killers remained remorseless over their insane crimes and provoke no sympathy. We know about as little about them as we knew before the film.