Josh Trank needed a big hit to bring him back – despite the promise of CHRONICLE (2012), the failure of FANTASTIC FOUR (2015) and the breakdown of his Boba Fett film left Trank in a bit of an employment pickle.
So, hiring the always committed Tom Hardy to play infamous gangster Al Capone seems like a foundation on which to build something at least memorable. And it is that, though not always for the right reasons.
Tracing Capone’s last year of life, having just been released from his eleven-year sentence in the United States Penitentiary, the film attempts to capture his mental deterioration as he suffers from neurosyphilis, suffering from frequent delusions, hallucinations and loss of physical/bladder/stool control.
This portrayal is simultaneously CAPONE’s (2020) greatest asset and weakness. Trank takes the time to construct sequences that unveil Capone’s fears and regrets. From imagining victims of past crimes, to an extensive scene that charts a sort of boxing ring walk towards Louis Armstrong (Troy Anderson), crooning on a stage as Capone is spotlighted as a powerful figure once more, Trank wants to invest us in the gangster by locking us into his mind.
While its overwhelming effect is effective, there are also moments where it leads into comedy that is, ironically, confusing and a bit misplaced. Perhaps it was intended by Trank as some kind of levity, but to see Capone violently release his bowels in bed, or lash out at an alligator that eats a fish on his line by shooting it point blank, I’m sure many of us will laugh with an eyebrow pointed firmly upwards.
But I’m sure, with his fanbase, you’re all here to see how Hardy handles this larger than life character. The answer is in a way that you’d expect from Hardy: his accent makes him difficult to understand at times, his face is covered in prosthetics and he’s devoted to stealing every single scene that he’s in.
Yet, while his accent does sound like a cross between Bane and Bugs Bunny (a point that Trank might knowingly joke at, when Capone is asked to chew carrots instead of cigars for his health: “What is he, Bugs Bunny?”), it smartly added to Capone’s difficulties with articulation, symptomatic of his illness. While we’re in his head, we also feel for those around him, struggling to get to grips with what the hell he’s grumbling about.
That being said, Linda Cardellini does draw the short straw as Mae, Capone’s wife. Yes, we understand why she would feel so lost as the primary carer of Capone, being in the state that he’s in. But we don’t really to get to know her beyond that: we feel her position through Capone, not from her own perspective. Your enjoyment of CAPONE will instead rest on whether you can enjoy a nearly two-hour movie centered almost entirely around a deliberately over-the-top performance from Tom Hardy.
For many of us, that’s often more than enough: if we learnt anything from VENOM (2018), it’s that an unhinged Tom Hardy is often box office gold. It’s just a shame that Trank’s vision gets so caught up in unnecessary details.
If witnessing Al Capone drop a fart in the middle of an interrogation is something that you’d consider to be a major part of understanding Al Capone, I think we’re on a different wavelength. I’m all for comedy, just not weirdly placed laughs during a film about a notorious mobster losing his mind. While I can’t endorse it as a great piece of filmmaking, CAPONE might justify a watch due to Hardy’s committed interior carnage (or external, in one energetic shootout scene that feels a little out of left-field). But I do feel that, despite its attempts to portray one man’s madness, it does go a little mad itself in trying to nail down a tone that suits that kind of narrative.
Josh Trank has taken the opportunity to release the eagerly anticipated, Tom Hardy vehicle CAPONE on streaming platforms, amidst total cinema closure. Is it worthy of the infamous mobster? Or has Trank’s latest outing tanked?