Synopsis – The 47-year old Al Capone, after 10 years in prison, starts suffering from dementia and comes to be haunted by his violent past.
My Take – With the term ‘gangster’ comes the name recognition, Al Capone. The infamous bootlegger and ruthless businessman who ruled Chicago for seven-years, and who despite passing in 1947, till date remains the most infamous and feared mobster of American lore. A factor heavily implied about Hollywood who got about 17 different actors to play the crime boss on the big screen, with Ben Gazzara‘s portrayal in Capone (1975) and Robert DeNiro‘s performance in The Untouchables (1987), being among the most famous portrayals.
While one might initially consider this to be just another take on the Big Al’s life and his doings, however the main catch here is that it acts as a potential comeback vehicle for the infamous filmmaker Josh Trank. Back in 2012, with the release of Chronicle, an excellent found footage based superhero film, as a filmmaker Trank became a blockbuster wunderkind, a status, however, easily lost with the release of his next film, the critical & commercial disaster Fantastic Four (2015), from which he infamously distanced himself a day before it opened, implying that studio interference ruined his once great film. An event which also let to him being fired from a then in the works Star Wars film.
Although we’ll never get to see what he might have done left to his own devices with FANT4STIC for better or worse this independent crime drama is a complete Josh Trank feature. With Trank writing, editing and directing, the film aimed to get inside the head of the larger-than-life figure, and seemed to have lofty ambitions of being the next great crime drama, unfortunately it falls short of finding a compelling story about its subject’s final days.
While director Trank‘s efforts to deviate from the rise-and-fall formula in telling Capone’s life is worth noting, but the film is a just too shapeless and meandering to make an impact. Seeing a reclusive Capone combating his demons feels brief and fleeting because the psychology of the screenplay is often overshadowed by Tom Hardy‘s gonzo performance.
Here, Hardy stumbles around paranoid, grumbling in a raspy voice and shouting expletives, and while this sounds like severe overacting, he does it in a way which seems utterly real and mesmerizing. He’s the center of attention every moment onscreen, and he deserves all the praise. Hardy is pretty much the only great thing in this average and mostly unimportant film.
The story follows Alfonse “Al” Capone (Tom Hardy), the iconic gangster, who despite all the crime he was linked to, was arrested for tax evasion. Now after spending 10 years in prison, Capone begins living the rest of his life in a palatial estate in Florida, under government watch, where he is cared for by his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), son Junior (Noel Fisher), and a host of other members of the family and employees.
However, now diagnosed with neurosyphilis, Fonzo (as he is now known as), struggles to maintain his grip on reality as his situation becomes more dire, all the while his doctor, Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan) and other members of the family try to unpack the mystery surrounding $10 million he apparently hid somewhere. To make matters further uncomfortable, Tony (Mason Guccione), his out-of-wedlock son keeps calling him, and FBI Agent Crawford (Jack Lowden) seems convinced that the former boss of the Chicago Outfit is worth a continued investigation.
The film looks to differentiate itself from other entries in the crime genre by focusing solely on the very end of Capone’s life and all the hardships that entailed. On-paper, it’s an interesting approach to take, and in some respects it works fairly well. Seeing a broken Capone sitting on the extravagant estate makes for an eye-catching visual juxtaposition, referencing his past while illustrating how far he’s fallen. Director Trank also incorporates a radio dramatization of the St. Valentine’s Day massacre to remind viewers of the person Capone was.
One can see what Trank is aiming for, but the film largely misses its marks more often than not. Mainly as the film isn’t always the most interesting watch on a narrative level, despite having a pair of through-lines that try to give it some structure. For the first thirty to forty minutes, all we see happen is a few things. To list just a few, Capone accidentally pooping his pants in bed, trying to shoot a fish he didn’t get catch out on a boat, yelling at various people, and smoking a cigar while grumbling. Capone’s depiction of a mentally-ill man frequently teeters between tragedy and unintentional comedy depending on the situation.
It’s clear, director Trank wanted viewers to feel sympathy for this version of Capone, who is haunted by his past and dealing with a medical condition beyond his control, but it doesn’t always work.
To cinematographer Peter Deming’s credit, he blends reality with Capone’s fevered dreams seamlessly. There’s a prolonged dance sequence that feels like a scene from The Shining that sets the delirious tone of Capone’s dementia-riddle mind. Which is quickly followed by Capone stalking his inner child, who’s holding a golden balloon. Unfortunately, outside of the few dreamlike sequences, there aren’t many memorable or kinetic scenes in the film.
Yet you may end up watching this, especially if you are a fan of Tom Hardy, who unsurprisingly delivers a truly fantastic performance as the titular character, and makes the film mostly watchable. Known for his iconoclastic roles like Bane, Venom, and Mad Max, he outdoes himself here. Often been regarded as one of the finest actors working today, Hardy’s performance is undoubtedly so unlike anything we’ve ever seen, taking the fame away and leaving anger and confusion in his debilitating state. Here, he gives the film a big name to draw people in, getting through another performance with one of his trademark funny voices. In some respects, this is a transformative role for Hardy; it’s almost impossible to look away when he’s onscreen.
As for the supporting cast, all the parts here are thinly-written and don’t give the actors much to work with. While Linda Cardellini and Matt Dillon has comparatively meatier parts, however they are written as largely two-dimensional. In other roles, Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Lowden, Kathrine Narducci, Gino Cafarelli, Mason Guccione, and Noel Fisher, just fill up space. On the whole, ‘Capone’ is a dull and underwritten crime drama which only die-hard fans of Tom Hardy might enjoy.
Directed – Josh Trank
Rated – R
Run Time – 103 minutes