After the total flop “Fantastic Four”, director Josh Trank is in touch CAPONE back, a drama about the notorious crook Al Capone and especially about his final years. We’ll reveal in our review whether the Tom Hardy vehicle is convincing.
OT: Capone (CAN/USA 2020)
1946: The famous Chicago gang boss Al Capone (Tom Hardy) is just 47 years old, but is already physically and mentally exhausted. He suffers from neurosyphilis and is becoming increasingly demented. His wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) increasingly acts as a patient caregiver on an estate in Florida that is being sold piece by piece. The FBI continues to monitor him, even if there is opposition, they should finally leave the sick man, who has become harmless, alone. Capone barely notices any of this, but his bloody past haunts him in delusional dreams…
Josh Trank is drawn to material that upends expectations. His directorial debut, “Chronicle,” was released during the heyday of found-footage horror, but came across as a found-footage superhero film in which coming-of-age conventions are turned inside out, as is the progression of typical superhero origin stories. His second film, the “Fantastic Four” reboot, which was panned by critics and negatively received by audiences, set out to reinterpret the lively super quartet as the protagonists of a kind of comic book body horror story. And even after this brutal flop, Trank remains true to this path: The gangster drama “Capone” does not show its title hero, the notorious mafioso Al Capone, in his prime. Nor does it outline the rise and fall of Capone. “Capone” focuses solely on the last year of the legendary criminal’s life, during which he spent most of his life swearing, sweating feverishly and lying in bed disoriented. This focus has already brought Trank’s third directorial effort after its US release some undeserved criticism – quite a few film fans who were looking forward to a classic mafia film gave “Capone” a negative rating simply because they didn’t get what they had previously imagined put.
Linda Cardellini and Tom Hardy as Fonse and Mae Capone.
As unwarranted as this backlash was, it’s not as if there’s anything wrong with “Capone” if you approach the film on its wavelength. So Tom Hardy’s performance as the title character is a double-edged sword. There are scenes in which Capone’s feverish weirdness invites empathetic smiles rather than a smile about his health situation, and Hardy hits the nail on the head in these. However, there are also a handful of scenes in which Hardy exaggerates Capone’s babbling, complaining, and sickly moaning to such an extent that it becomes unintentionally funny – this gives “Capone” a bitter, unpleasant aftertaste, and it diminishes the basic drama of the situation. If you take the entire film into account, this also detracts from those scenes in which Hardy manages to play the gangster, who is becoming increasingly sick and losing touch with reality, straight-up, without absurd exaggeration or subtle irony. Taken in isolation, moments such as when Capone is being examined by a doctor and no longer knows how old he is, or when he crawls to his wife in remorse because he soiled the bed are successful. However, its emotional impact is diminished by moments of acting mistakes. Only those responsible for the film will know whether this is entirely Hardy’s fault, who has increasingly found joy in excessive eccentricity in recent years (see, for example, “Venom”), or whether it was also Trank’s direction that led to this.
“There are a handful of scenes in which Hardy exaggerates Capone’s babbling, bitching and sickly moans to such an extent that it becomes unintentionally funny – which gives ‘Capone’ a bitter, unpleasant aftertaste.”
Regardless of this lack of clarity, it is already well established that Hardy actually knows how to master the basic tonality of “Capone” perfectly – after all, he already played the notorious criminal Bronson for Nicolas Winding Refn, who was also physically like that in the 2008 biopic of the same name mentally disintegrates. The shining moments of “Capone” are those in which the former terror of Chicago is haunted by distorted, dark memories in nightmares and waking dreams. These passages, in which Hardy plays a visibly stricken (the age and illness make-up is impressive) Capone, trudging irritably through dramatic and brutal snippets of his former life, clinging to the last straws of his former image, are played engagingly. And above all, memorably staged: Trank and his cameraman Peter Deming (“Mulholland Drive”) find a visual language that deliberately balances between transfigured memory, gangster film drama and ominous-unreal. This mixture alone is already skillful, but the irregular moments in which the balance is (intentionally) drastically lost give Capone’s madness an additional, oppressive dimension.
Tom Hardy’s performance divides…
In the straightforward real-world moments, the imagery is unfortunately a bit routinely TV-biopic-drama-esque, and although Linda Cardellini (“Green Book – A Special Friendship”) is very convincing as a devoted but also desperate wife, not enough is made of her role to explore her pain. This film therefore lacks a tangible, consistent empathy, so that indifference too often prevails despite successful moments.
Conclusion: The basic idea is appealing, but Trank’s deconstruction of a gangster legend comes to no conclusion. In combination with Tom Hardy’s performance, which fluctuates in quality, this makes “Capone” an ambitious but also half-baked drama that has at least a few memorable passages.
“Capone” will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from March 26th and on VOD from March 19th.