I’m a sucker for films that have a “go big or go home mentality,” and after the failure of Fantastic Four, director Josh Trank could have played a much safer game. Capone is a bigtime risk for Trank, and against all odds he comes up with one of this year’s most audacious films (Capone, in short, gives no f**ks).
The money making deal would have been for Josh Trank, who also penned Capone, to create a feature that dealt with Al Capone’s (Tom Hardy) reign over Chicago or even give us some fictional tale about his life in Alcatraz.
Instead we are treated with the final year of the mobster, as dementia and syphillis has robbed him of his mental and physical capacities. He literally s**ts the bed and drools while a piece carrot dangles from his mouth (it substitutes as a cigar). His disorientation and deteriorating health has understandably taken its toll on his otherwise spirited wife Mae (Linda Cardellini).
Capone (his loved ones call him “Fonzo”) may live in a sprawling Palm Island, Florida mansion, but his kingdom around him is slipping through his calloused fingers. Statues and furnitures are being moved about, and his abundance of valuables may be up for sale to ease his financial straights. Capone, now 47, was once the king of the hill, but now he’s a doddering middle aged man who feels more like a grandpa than an intimidating crime lord.
There is one final mission for Capone before he expires, as he believes there is $10 million stashed away near his property. Is it buried in Florida swamps next to the alligators? And how, in his current state, will he unearth that treasure to share with his family? Speaking of which, his illegitmate son Tony (Mason Guccione) keeps crank calling the house and his other kid Junior (Noel Fisher) is still craving the approval of dear old dad.
Matt Dillon has a pivotal role as Johnny, a Capone confidant who makes the trip out to the Sunshine State to visit his friend. Rounding out the ensemble Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s scheming doctor, Jack Lowden as an determined FBI agent, and Al Sapienza and Gino Cafarelli as his cronies.
Before watching Capone, I said goodbye to my 3-year-old niece Clare as she was set to watch The Wizard of Oz for the first time. One of my horrible traits as a lifelong interviewer is my tendency at name dropping, and I told Clare that years ago I interviewed John Lahr, a renowned theater critic and son of actor Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion).
Within the hour I watched Tom Hardy (as Capone) perform his rendition “If I Were King of the Forest” while watching The Wizard of Oz (Bert Lahr sang the tune). It was a coincidence that one chalks up to circumstance, but it also gave me a fresher perspective of Capone. The lines drawn between illusion and reality are blurred beyond belief in this tale, and cinephiles in the mood for subversive approach to storytelling should be more than satisfied.
This tale is not your stereotypical cradle to grave biopic, nor does it give viewers a laundry list of Capone’s actions as a once feared crime boss. With our “protagonist” unable to distinguish reality for most of the narrative, we are placed in a perpetual dream state, and it’s within this world where Trank and Hardy flourish.
Hardy’s outsized performance teeters on camp, but it’s his innate ability to bring humanity (or at the very least insight) to the role which infuses Capone with a surprising level of resonance. Trank may not live in an extravagant mansion with cronies at his beck and call, but he must know a thing or two about seeing one’s world gradually collapse.
Both of these distinct approaches helps shape the movie into a full bodied narrative which some may view as too baroque for their tastes. A healthy share of watchers may not fall in love with Trank’s surreal take on the mob drama, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Capone garners its share of loyalists (including myself).
Trank, who must have been on the ropes after Fantastic Four, simply goes for broke with Capone, and armed with a first rate partner in Hardy he’s delivered a cinematic knockout. Folks looking for predictable, popcorn driven entertainment should probably look the other way, as this film is not easily digestible.
There’s one tour de force sequence wherein Capone, thanks to his fractured view of time and reality, steps back into the past where he is party to a grave misdeed (and betrayal). During the film’s first act, I had questions if this story would ultimately drown in its own claustrophobia, but in the aforementioned scene Trank opens up his narrative in eye-opening detail.
For a seemingly initimate film about a man’s steady decline, one may assume Capone would be a little too insular for its own good. Thankfully, that’s absolutely not the case, as the narrative provides its share of memorable visual compositions (which includes a violent encounter with an alligator and a tommy gun attack on a perceived adversary).
Different strokes for different folks surely applies when discussing Trank’s latest film. The opinions will certainly be divided, and for some gosh darn reason I completely bought into this compelling and immersive yarn.
I understand if certain individuals give this movie a thumbs down, believing the straight and narrow path is the way. Thanks to a jaw dropping performance from Hardy and some downright fearless filmmaking from Trank, I was more than willing to follow the Fonzo’s journey down yellow brick road.
Capone hits VOD on May 12 via Vertical Entertainment.