BALTIMORE (AP) - Less than a year after the arrests of John Allen
Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the first movie about the shootings that
terrorized the suburbs and exurbs of the nation's capital is here.
"D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear," which premieres 9 p.m. EDT Friday on
USA, was admittedly rushed through production to be finished while
the shooting spree was still fresh in people's minds.
(Also keeping it fresh in their minds: Tuesday's scheduled start of
Following books about the sniper probe by Montgomery County Police
Chief Charles Moose and two Washington Post reporters, this
relatively evenhanded docudrama doesn't reveal much.
And while it's nearly impossible to replicate the feeling of waking
up every morning wondering if there's going to be another shooting,
the movie does capture both the pervasive anxiety of the region and
the stunning randomness of the attacks.
"The main question would be, 'Is it too early?' And my answer to that
is, 'This is America. We move on very fast,"' says Charles S. Dutton,
who stars as Moose. "I didn't want to do anything exploitative or
disrespectful to the victims' families, and I don't think this is."
Not only does Dutton bear a passing resemblance to Moose, he also has
ties to the area. A Baltimore native, he lives on a farm in Howard
County, Montgomery's neighbor to the north.
"I was physically here during just about all the shootings, and those
guys were captured maybe 15 miles from my place," Dutton says by
phone from his home. "So although I was maybe 30 miles north of where
everything was happening, you could still really feel the anxiety in
Director Tom McLoughlin and screenwriter Dave Erickson, who also
collaborated on USA's "Murder in Greenwich," did as much research as
they could in the time they had - speaking with investigators and
Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan, among others.
But Moose, who was embroiled in a dispute with the county's ethics
commission over whether he could write his book, was not involved
with the project. And Dutton, who was performing on Broadway
throughout preproduction, came to the set cold.
"I've never met Charles Moose. He wasn't on the set. I finished the
play April 4, flew to Vancouver April 5 and we were shooting April 6.
I had no rehearsal time," Dutton says. "So one thing I didn't try to
do is try to capture his speech patterns or dialect because I really
didn't have time to work on that."
Dutton did, however, study tapes of Moose's news conferences. "At the
podium, he had a certain pensiveness. You could see him thinking
before he answered a question. That was really fun to play, that
"D.C. Sniper" cuts quickly between the investigation and the alleged
shooters, Muhammad (Bobby Hosea) and Malvo (Trent Cameron), as they
pick out their targets, elude dragnets and try to initiate
communication with investigators. While certain elements are
exaggerated, it's still shocking to see their phone calls ignored and
see them slip away from police because they didn't match what
investigators were looking for.
Still, inaccuracies are likely to needle those who followed the case
closely, particularly those who live in the region. A passer-by
greets Doug Duncan (Jay O. Sanders) with "Good morning, Mayor Duncan"
(he's not the mayor of anything); Moose pops up at crime scenes, even
those out of his jurisdiction, just minutes after the shootings, when
in reality he was holed up at police headquarters.
Ultimately, there are few surprises in "D.C. Sniper." While Dutton
has some powerful moments, he plays Moose largely as the world saw
him: at times steely and determined, at times bumbling and
frustrated, at times overcome with emotion at the plight of the
"When these cases are so known by the public and things have been
painted in the light that they've been painted, I don't think this
movie's going to surprise anybody," McLoughlin says. "I think they
just get a little insight into how it happened."
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But McLoughlin stands by the decision to get the movie out quickly:
"There was still so much commotion attached to it that I could still
feel the fear. Ten years later, you've got some distance, but the
re-creation of it is not as valuable."