A film review by Craig J. Koban May 20, 2020

CAPONE j
½

2020, R, 103 mins.

Tom Hardy as Al Capone  /  Linda Cardellini as Mae Capone  /  Matt Dillon as Johnny Torrio  /  Kyle MacLachlan as Dr. Karlock  /  Kathrine Narducci as Rosie Capone  /  Jack Lowden as Agent Crawford  /  Noel Fisher as Junior Capone  /  Tilda Del Toro as Mona Lisa

Written and directed by Josh Trank

CAPONE is absolutely proof positive that a compelling idea for a movie doesn't necessarily make for a compelling movie.  

To be fair, it audaciously tries something different when it comes to telling a story about an unexplored side of one of the most famous gangsters in history in Al Capone that's arguably unknown to most.  That, and CAPONE could not be anymore different than writer/director Josh Trank's previous two efforts, his fantastic rookie debut film in the super hero themed found footage thriller CHRONICLE to the infamously terrible FANTASTIC FOUR reboot that nearly destroyed his young career after an ill timed tweet on his part.  CAPONE also contains yet another fanatically tuned in performance of thankless commitment (some would aptly say borders on self-parody) by Tom Hardy in the titular role.  Unfortunately, Trank's third film never fully achieves sizeable creative lift-off and fails to come together in the way it wants to.  When I finished my in-home VOD screening of it, I was pretty convinced that it was a confounding curiosity piece that teeters towards hot garbage levels. 

Anyone that has probably seen THE UNTOUCHABLES is probably already familiar with Al Capone.  He was one of the most notorious gangsters in early 20th Century Chicago that eventually served 11-years in prison for, of all things, income tax evasion.  All of this is pretty common knowledge, and, to Trank's credit, he's not particularly interested in exploring a traditional biopic of Capone replete with his history as a criminal.  We have that image of the dangerous crook deeply implanted in our collective subconscious already, so Trank opts instead to spin a narrative based on what happened to the man after his decade-plus incarceration.  CAPONE is less about a frightening underworld kingpin at the height of his might than it really is about showing him at his weakest and most broken down.  Trank's script takes place in 1941and catches up with Capone (Hardy, caked under tons of makeup and method acting up something fierce) after he exited prison and settles back into normal civilian life, albeit still rich (but heavily in debt) and residing in his mansion in Florida.  He's still under Federal watch and scrutiny, but his scary visage is really no more.  At a relatively young 40-years-old, Capone here looks double his age, physically withered away and suffering from crippling neurosyphilis, which is rotting his mind, soul, body.  Hell, he has next to no control over his basic bodily functions.  This might be the only Al Capone centric film in history that has the mobster uncontrollably shit and piss his pants within its first few minutes.   

 

 

Clearly, the only threat that Capone poses to anyone is to himself.  His mental breakdown as well due to dementia is causing him to also lose his grip on reality, leading to frequent bouts of hallucinations.  He's surrounded mostly by his immediate family and underlines, like wife Mae (Linda Cardellini, working small miracles with a criminally underwritten role), and his children, but he's in such pathetic shape that he can barely function within the boundaries of a normal family unit.  Plus, his family is broke, which forces him to sell off much of his prized possessions.  Still, Capone's steadfastly believes that a secret stash of his $10 million fortune can still be found, which, of course, catches the attention of the FBI, led by Agent Crawford (Jack Lowden).  Capone is also visited by other friends, like Johnny Torrio (Matt Dillon) and his doctor (Kyle MacLachlan), but it becomes clear that with each new day this ex-mafia boss is moving further away from any type of recovery.  Plus, is his money stash even real, or just a figment of his now warped imagination? 

CAPONE is a refreshingly understated and smaller production than Trank's last foray into big budget comic book extravaganzas, and his decision to go the smaller route after the disaster that was FANTASTIC FOUR was a wise choice.  CAPONE, for the most part, looks good and contains some fleeting moments of strong visual interest, some of which occurs in the real world, whereas much of it takes place within the deeper recesses of Capone's hallucinations.  Regardless, there's definitely a wealth of technical polish to the proceedings here, even when the film haphazardly segues between the present and past flashbacks, the latter which may or may not have actually happened.  Complimenting the atmosphere is Hardy's gonzo performance as the middle aged and sickly ex-con, and the role gives the vanity-free British actor another opportunity physically transform himself into the syphilitic frame of a deteriorating, walking corpse.  With his perpetual bloodshot eyes, frighteningly pale complexion, and a vocal tenor that's a combination of monosyllabic growls, snorts, and all other forms of idiosyncratic facial ticks, this is the stuff of a Hardy-esque mumblecore wet dream.  As he does with every picture he occupies, Hardy gives every scene he's in an aura of untamed unpredictability that overshadows everyone else.  

Herein lies one of the many big problems that truly hurts CAPONE: Hardy's insanely mannered and immersive performance sometimes comes off as unintentionally funny and lacking in compelling sophistication and complexity.  He plausibly relays a man that's devastatingly unhealthy, to be sure, and it's a tour de force physical transformation for the acclaimed actor.  Having said that, his commendable acting married to Trank's tone deaf scripting left me perpetually scratching my head and asking what this film is really trying to say about Capone.  This man is presented in all of his warts and all illness and all of the suffering that he puts himself and those around him through, but there's so little in actual psychological depth to this character presented here.  Sitting through this film is akin to being around a grotesquely unhinged and nauseatingly disturbed man that has no command over his cognitive and bodily functions.  It's a two hour descent into the warped world of a diseased man, one that Trank tries - and fails - to pull off with distinct David Lynchian and Cronenberg weirdness.  More often than not, CAPONE becomes an excruciatingly exhausting horror show to endure instead of a thoughtfully compelling character driven piece. 

And, as mentioned, the story flirts with the nature of reality, and showcases multiple awkwardly edited together vignettes of the former mobman being overwhelmed by ghastly visions and violent memories of his past criminal enterprising days.  Capone is in such a state of mental chaos here that the story never pulls back, stops, takes a deep breath, and tries to get to the bottom of what it's wanting to inform us about this man in the state of his life.  Outside of his obvious insanity and deep paranoia about everything and everyone around him on top of his complete physical decline, there's simply not much more to this character beyond that.  Some moments are just strange beyond belief, leaving me with no clue as to whether they're supposed to be taken seriously or appreciate as dark pieces of absurd comedy.  Aside from the frequent bouts with urine and feces building up in his trousers on a constant basis, Capone finds himself in the film (in no particular order) shotgun blasting a crocodile, putting a carrot in his mouth and smoking it like a cigar, singing along to the cowardly lion while watching THE WIZARD OF OZ in his own 40s era home cinema, or - in what has to be seen to be believed - a late scene with him sporting an adult diaper and going on a mass shooting spree with a gold platted Tommy Gun.  It was at this point when I wished that Trank's film just regressed back to another instance of Capone crapping himself to the increasing stunned dismay of his family members. 

CAPONE is, when all is said and done, much ado about nothing.  I like films that wildly swing for the fences, flip the bird at slavishly adhered to genre status quos, and dare to be delectably offbeat.  I see kernels of promise with the basic concept of what Trank was trying to do with CAPONE, and it most certainly cannot be labeled as yet another fact based mob drama written on pure cliché riddled autopilot.  I welcome any film that tries to spin a yarn about a historical gangster's last pathetic days as opposed to his peak glory days as a crook.  Trank has ambition here, but CAPONE is such a meandering mess of ideas and a failure of execution of said ideas that I was frankly glad when it was over.  Hardy is a marvel to behold in pure performance beast-mode in individual scenes here and there throughout the film, and he indeed is one of the very few redeeming and intriguing qualities of Trank's film.  But there's simply nothing else going on underneath CAPONE's surface beyond it being a showcase for Hardy's deep dive acting clinic.  A recent historically based mob film like THE IRISHMEN - also about over-the-hill criminals struggling with their advancing years, issues of mortality, and the guilt they have over past ill deeds - was enthralling in its thematic density, and CAPONE could have attained similar levels of compulsive interest.  Instead, Trank's work - like the decrepit mind warped crime lord himself that resides within it - sits listlessly in its own filth with no hope of recovery.   

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