Josh Trank burst onto the scene in 2012 with “Chronicle”, his own spin on the superhero genre. While I wasn’t as smitten with it as most, the film earned high marks and seemed to put Trank on the fast-track to bigger projects. That came in 2015 with “Fantastic Four”, an unmitigated disaster that was widely panned and hampered by rumors of production discord between Trank and the studio.
“Capone” is Trank’s first film since the “Fantastic Four” debacle and he couldn’t have picked a more intriguing subject or a more captivating lead actor. Exploring the final days of arguably the most notorious mobster in American gangland history is fascinating in itself. Casting Tom Hardy to play the titular character just added to the excitement. Unfortunately “Capone” is a lethargic mess that never fully gets its feet under itself. On the other hand, the angle it takes in exploring one man’s madness couldn’t be done in a neat and tidy way.
The movie takes a look at the final months of Capone’s life as he lives in exile on his Palm Island, Florida estate. He’s no longer deemed a threat by the government, but they still keep him under constant surveillance. By this time Capone was a physically and mentally deteriorated shell of his former self, his body and mind eroded by neurosyphilis. So he spends his time confined to his mansion, battling ghosts from his past and haunting hallucinations that may or may not be rooted in reality.
“Capone” is a one-man show, resting squarely on the shoulders of the intensely committed Tom Hardy. There are other characters though including Linda Cardellini playing his wife Mae, a woman trapped in their relationship but content to let it play out. Kyle MacLachlan plays the family doctor who is coerced by the feds into being their earpiece. Matt Dillon pops up as an old friend and enforcer who pays Al a visit. And we get Gino Cafarelli as a loyal-till-the-end lieutenant who watches over his dying boss’ place.
But it’s all about Big Al and Hardy’s ‘method’ deep-dive which leaves no detail unexplored. His performance fits well with Trank’s self-aware treatment which is partly based on fact and just as much on fiction. Hardy digs down into the cigar-chomping Capone’s fractured psyche, portraying a dementia-riddled 47-year-old in a doddering old man’s body. It’s a surreal portrait, slightly absurd and even more grotesque, masked by raspy growls, bloodshot eyes, and a sickly pale complexion. It shows a man consumed by guilt, paranoia, and indignation but held captive by his pitiful, steadily weakening frame.
Trank (who wrote, edited, and directed) teases Capone’s violent past, but he never gives it space to be glamorized. From his blood-drenched nightmares to his urine-soaked pajamas, the Capone seen here isn’t afforded a single scene of celebration. Instead Trank focuses on the ugliness of a man stripped bare of his former glory and living with the rotten fruits of his brutal, violent labors. Every frame of this film is intent on shattering the Al Capone mythos. On that level Trank accomplishes exactly what he sets out to do.
“Capone” is an ugly, uncomfortable movie, but so is its subject matter. Neither Josh Trank’s filmmaking nor Tom Hardy’s performance allow a second for nostalgia or romanticizing. There are no warm flashbacks or reminiscing of the glory days. The movie isn’t interested in what got Capone to this point. It is interested in bringing him face-to-face with the futility of his opulence, power and past pleasures.
“Capone” has already proven to be a polarizing film and in many ways it was destined to be. This is not your standard biopic nor does is feature a conventional narrative. It’s a movie full of blurred lines and disorienting visions. There is no steady dramatic throughline except for a fun macguffin involving the hidden $10 million Geraldo Rivera thought he found back in 1986. Everyone wants to get their hands on it, but its location is lost in Capone’s addled mind. Trank throws out clues to where the money is hidden and I had fun figuring out where I thought it might be.
But that’s about all the “story” you’re going to get. The rest is a grim foray into a disease-ravaged mind anchored by Hardy’s grab-it-by-the-throat performance. Is that enough to warrant sitting through so much unpleasantness? You’ll have to make that call. Me, I’m kinda on the fence. I really want more in terms of character depth and story. At the same time I can’t help but appreciate Trank’s audacity and unflinching commitment to his vision. And the sheer craft on display shows a side of Trank we haven’t seen before.
VERDICT – 3 STARS