Originally titled ‘Misanthrope,’ ‘To Catch a Killer’ is a crime drama film directed by Damián Szifron that brings a sobering take on a criminal mass shooting investigation. The film stars Shailene Woodley and Ben Mendelsohn in central roles against Ralph Ineson as the antagonist. FBI Special Agent, Lammark carries out an investigation against Baltimore’s recent deadly mass shooter, recruiting the help of beat cop Eleanor for the case. Through massive media speculation and political pressure, Lammark hopes to find help in Eleanor’s unique perspective, influenced by her harsh reality, to track down the city’s dangerous sniper shooter.
The mass shooter, eventually revealed to be Dean Possey, plays a crucial role in the film’s narrative. Through his character, the film needles a criminal’s psyche and tries to provide a nuanced and complex take on the topic. Due to the same, viewers might wonder if his character has any basis in a real-life shooter from Baltimore. Let’s find out!
Is Dean Possey a Real Mass Shooter?
No, Dean Possey is not based on a real Baltimore mass shooter. ‘To Catch a Killer’ is an original story written by director Damián Szifron and his co-writer Jonathan Wakeham. Therefore, Dean Possey’s character is only a work of fiction created by the writers to infuse their storyline thematically with sour revenge, anger, and hatred. Through the hunt for his character, the film also depicts the ugly side of media and the public who pounce on tragedies to turn them into theories full of agenda-driven prejudices.
Szifron, best known for his Oscar-nominated 2014 film ‘Wild Tales,’ is no stranger to incorporating social musings into his narrative and seems to have a knack for such revenge-based storylines. When discussing the same, director Szifron mentioned this film and said, “In ‘To Catch a Killer,’ it’s [the revenge theme] a bit more like biblical revenge. It’s fury unleashed against a species.”
Dean, a trained marksman unable to thrive in a capitalistic world, is perpetually angry at everything. Eventually, one New Year’s Eve, he finds an outlet for that anger by committing a mass shooting across the area from a distant apartment building. Through his serial killing sprees, Dean imparts “retribution” on society for poorly treating him. This narrative of a killer with a traumatic past has been seen numerous times in fiction and reality.
For instance, according to CNN, in 2023, up to May alone, more than 325 mass shootings have occurred in the United States, leading to the death of 375+ victims. Additionally, in Baltimore, 19 homicides and 45 non-fatal mass shootings were recorded in March of 2023. As such, the theme of gun violence explored through Dean’s character presents a vastly relevant reflection of reality.
Nevertheless, a shooting of the magnitude portrayed in the film hasn’t occurred in Baltimore. Therefore, even though Dean’s storyline has a faint resemblance to reality, it has a limited basis in the same. The film builds Dean’s character and experiences to explore the psychology behind such violent behavior. Through his influence on the plot, the film also discusses the public’s stereotypical prejudices when it comes to such sensitive matters. Repeatedly we see people make assumptions about the killer’s identity and motives without any firm evidence about the same.
Shailene Woodley’s character, Eleanor, enters the scene specifically because she can understand the inner workings of the killer better than anyone else seems to. Unlike most stories, ‘To Catch a Killer’ seems to almost possess an empathetic approach to Dean’s mass shooter character. By doing so, the narrative hopes to highlight the importance of rehabilitation. Through the same character, however, the film also acknowledges instances where help is beyond reach for certain people.
Therefore, Dean Possey’s character is instrumental in the film’s depiction of several real-life issues and incidents. Nevertheless, his character himself is fictitious, constructed to give shape to the narrative’s themes. Ultimately, he’s not based on a real-life person.
Read More: Is To Catch a Killer Based on a True Story?