As I write this, the National Rifle Assocation-backed recall election of Colorado state senators John Morse and Angela Giron has ended and both of them have lost their jobs. Morse and Giron supported the state's new gun safety legislation requiring background checks for private sales and capping magazine capacity at 15 rounds. What does that vote of no confidence mean? It means that, at least in some portions of Colorado, some people like guns more than they hate what out-of-control people do with guns. So we will continue to live with atrocities like the Aurora shooting and the Sandy Hook shooting and the Beltway Sniper murders as the price of all that.
The Beltway Sniper murders took place in 2002. You might have to reach back through your memory's growing file of public murder rampages to recall the details. A mentally unstable man -- estranged from his children and removed from their lives by his ex-wife -- informally "adopted" a teenage boy, trained him to be a sniper and went on a killing spree in the Washington D.C. area, with over a dozen people dead or critically injured. But Alexandre Moors' debut feature, with a screenplay by R.F.I. Porto and starring Isaiah Washington (Grey's Anatomy) and Tequan Richmond (Everybody Hates Chris), reserves the "action" for the film's final 15 minutes. It also prefers distance to urgency: bodies are briefly glimpsed on the ground, the getaway car (the title's Chevrolet) glides away slowly, the killers rest in parking lots, more bodies fall to the ground. It's a removed sort of brutality, suggested and barely shown.
The extreme restraint serves the purpose of re-directing the horror of the murders from the slaughter itself to the slow, quiet destruction of the young man who repeatedly pulled the trigger. Moors routinely places the shy, intense Richmond in the center of the film: abandoned by his mother, scooped up and trained by a man who'd already snapped, love-bombed like a 1970s cult member and then forced to "prove" his devotion to Washington with a rifle. He's displaced, moved around, fed a stream of increasingly deranged ideas. "It's not crazy to kill people," Washington tells the boy, before ranting about the evil of humanity and how it needs to be punished and shut down. His performance surrounds the teenager, slowly heating up but never indulging in cheap movie-craziness. And when Richmond begins reading and memorizing sniper handbooks, learning to effectively threaten people around them, Washington quietly beams, "I've created a monster."
Moors takes on this balancing act of detached observation and up-close intimacy with great skill, stripping away brooding, menacing cliches. Some of the most harrowing conversations take place in supermarkets, over tables in diners, in the bright light of day. "We're invisible," says Washington at one point. And that is the point, or at least one of them. Damaged, violent people are everywhere, right in front of you, waiting for the opportunity to destroy whatever gets in their way. And though the movie never crosses the line of excusing the horrible crimes committed by the pair, it successfully explores how easily an untethered human being can be broken and turned inhuman. It's a wise, sorrowful addition to the conversation about attention-grabbing mass murders that we're all clearly going to keep on having and having and having.