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'DC Sniper' Targets the Terror

With a look at the horror caused by a perverse murderer, USA Network's movie D.C. Sniper: 23 Days of Fear
shines a spotlight on the fateful weeks in October of 2002 when a sniper used militia-style tactics to kill innocent people in the Washington, D.C., region.

Part of a plan to assassinate his ex-wife, he made routine tasks such as waiting for the bus or walking across a parking lot life-ending experiences for citizens around "the Beltway."

Two-time Emmy-winning actor Charles S. Dutton (Without a Trace, The Corner) puts in an exceptional performance as former Montgomery County (Maryland) Police Chief Charles Moose.

Dutton plays Moose with an uncanny resemblance that could, at first glance, fool residents of that metropolitan area and leads the film with an exactness that accurately captures the controlled demeanor of the former police chief.

The actor carefully executes moments such as Moose's unintended display of emotion at the press conference right after the sniper hit a 13-year-old victim entering Benjamin Tasker Middle School one busy morning.

The cast also offers outstanding performances — Jay O. Sanders (Kiss the Girls) as Montgomery County executive Doug Duncan; Bobby Hosea (Independence Day) as John Allen Muhammad; and Trent Cameron (American Dreams) as John Lee Malvo (or Lee Boyd Malvo), here in a successful transition from comedy to drama. Charlayne Woodard (Boomtown) plays Muhammed's ex-wife.

The movie puts into perspective the decisions made by the police department and a small army of FBI agents called in by Moose. Together they assembled the largest task force in U.S. history in order to capture Muhammed and Malvo.

The movie depicts Muhammed as having tight control over Malvo. It impressively shows the calculated execution of Muhammed's plan and his need to be credited with the murders.

In one scene, he is pleased at the news reports about the murders and then is displeased to discover the description doesn't fit him or his vehicle. He instructs Malvo to call the police and inform them they are looking for the wrong person.

The media's role is addressed as both help and hindrance to the investigation. After the child is shot, the sniper leaves a note including the words: "Do not leak to the press." When word gets on the news despite the police department's efforts, the sniper kills another victim.

The police chief also used daily press conferences to communicate with the sniper.

The only missing piece in this handling of the story is the constancy with which residents changed their daily routines in an effort to preserve their lives. Playgrounds and fields were abandoned, and parades, school recesses and sporting events cancelled. Pumping gas became a tricky operation as stations hung tarps outside to hide their operations, when possible, and attendants met clients at their cars to avoid them crouching behind their doors or hiding inside their cars.

does succeed as a gripping drama and also as the tale of one man who terrorized a community, and another who helped to restore peace.

D.C. Sniper
was directed by Tim McLoughlin, scripted by David Erickson, and executive-produced by Orly Adelson. Michael Isikoff, the Newsweek
reporter who covered the case extensively, worked on the film as creative consultant.