Capone movie review: Tom Hardy delivers most unsettling performance of his career in surreal gangster biopic
Director - Josh Trank
Cast - Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan
Deliberately provocative and downright dirty, Capone is a rancid belch of a movie that must be seen to be believed. But recommending that you watch it would be akin to forcing you to take a flight during the current pandemic; you might not come out of it the same person.
The logical move, as with hopping aboard a plane right now, would be to avoid it altogether. But there’s Tom Hardy, and everything you’ve seen and read about his objectively unhinged performance practically taunts you to have the guts to press play.
Watch the Capone trailer here
Capone, formerly known as Fonzo, isn’t a typical biopic or the traditional gangster picture. In telling the story of Al Capone, perhaps the most infamous outlaw of all time, it ignores stories from his life that any other film would’ve instantly lapped up. It doesn’t dramatise the gruesome St Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 — referenced in everything from Scarface to The Untouchables — nor does it focus on Capone’s stint in Alcatraz, where the dreaded gangster was given a rather luxurious private cell. Instead, writer-director-editor Josh Trank zeroes in on just a chapter in his life. The final one.
But Lincoln this is not. It is the ungodly spawn of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Shining — a film whose downward spiral mirrors Capone’s own descent into madness. It’s 1947, and around the time that our nation was awakening to life and freedom, Al Capone was living out his final days in Florida, a shadow of his former self, his body and mind rapidly rotting away from neurosyphillis.
As the film progresses, Capone, who is never called that, by the way -- it’s always Fonze or Fonzo — begins to hallucinate scenes from his past. He sees the trail of violence and blood he’s left behind, the lives he has destroyed, and how enamoured he was by his own legend. And now, with the mental faculties of a young child, it is all worthless — the admirers have disappeared, his wealth has dwindled, and his family’s faith in him has disintegrated.
This is the film that Trank was trying to make, but it isn’t the one I saw. The filmmaker, who after delivering a refreshing take on the superhero genre with his debut feature, Chronicle, was instantly tapped to helm a big-budget blockbuster, committed career suicide after tweeting against his sophomore effort, the unwatchable 2015 Fantastic Four reboot. In the run-up to Capone, Trank very candidly recalled his terrible experience working on Fantastic Four, and seemed to have come to terms with the heartbreak it left him with. In a way, the themes he tackles in Capone — isolation, guilt, arrogance — seem frighteningly personal.
And this is no doubt why Tom Hardy must’ve signed on to do the movie. Having landed his dream star, however, it seems as if Trank simply cleared the runway for him, without so much as a wave of a fluorescent baton to guide him down the right path. In a career filled with upsetting performances -- remember, this is the man who did Bronson -- this has to be the farthest Hardy has pushed his audience’s patience.
“You sound like a dying horse,” one character tells Capone in the film. And Hardy unleashes what can only be described as a guttural grunt conceived in the pits of hell. This is how Capone communicates. In fact, he soils himself on more occasions than he actually strings together an intelligible sentence. It’s a performance so comically exaggerated that it is absolutely impossible to take it seriously, especially with the tacky makeup they’ve slathered on Hardy’s face.
He’s showboating, and he knows it. But what Trank should’ve realised is that Hardy’s growls are drowning out the film’s subtext, and essentially erasing the point of its existence. By hiring David Lynch’s old cohorts, both in front of and behind the camera -- Kyle MacLachlan appears in a supporting role, while Peter Deming serves as cinematographer -- Trank was no doubt trying to tap into Lynch’s surrealism. But the film feels haphazardly structured, erratically edited, and tonally inconsistent. As an oddity, it’s interesting, but as a tale of redemption, Trank still has a long way to go.