Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon
Run Time: 104 mins
Capone (initially titled as Fonzo) is an unconventional biopic that centers on the infamous mobster’s last year of his life where he is suffering with the effects of syphilis and dementia. This is the first film by director Josh Trank after his time in director’s jail after seemingly being wiped off the face of Hollywood with Fantastic Four. I defended the film as I found that problems aside, there was still a good film in there which unfortunately had been tangled with by Fox’s executives. Sadly, most people didn’t see it this way and after Trank publicly disowned the film on the day of its release, it isn’t hard to imagine that most production companies wouldn’t want to take a chance with him. I would love to see what Trank had planned for that film one day in a director’s cut but there’s next to no chance of that ever happening.
Trank has written, directed and edited this biopic that was shot in early 2018 and was released in most territories last year but has only now found its way to a UK release, quietly and unceremeniously dumped on Netflix. Tom Hardy plays the ageing gangster under a lot of prosthetics having spent a long stint in prison. He now lives under the care of his family on house arrest and is still being closely monitored by the FBI, who are unsure if his illness is as authentic as it seems. We witness his decline in his last year, bookended by two Thanksgiving family dinners, where he loses awareness of reality, suffers hallucinations and battles incontinence. He is regularly seen to by a Doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) who faces a moral dilemma of assisting him with his health but is also under the pressure by the FBI to ‘coax’ him out of his illness and reveal where a vast amount of money that he had hidden before he was convicted is lurking.
Capone is a mixed bag. Thankfully, there is more good than bad though and it is always refreshing to see a filmmaker craft something original and defy convention rather than just churn out a generic biopic. The film hinges on the electric performance from Tom Hardy, who is terrific as the unhinged mobster and portrays his descent into insanity very convincingly. Hardy’s vocal mannerisms of Capone are brilliant, as is his feral, wide-eyed demeanour. There are some fine performances from the rest of the cast, such as Linda Cardellini as his wife and Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s Doctor but this is very much Tom Hardy’s vehicle.
Trank intersperses the film with flashbacks to Capone’s prime and hallucinations, particularly one extended sequence where Capone regrets his past actions as he relives a torturing and murder of a character and then sings along at a dinner to Cowardly Lion’s If I Were King Of The Forest from The Wizard of Oz. This extended sequence is the first major hallucination we experience of Capone’s but it is overlong and doesn’t really have much of a point, other than to witness that despite Capone’s mental state, he still expresses regret. There are some outlandish scenes in the film but this first extended sequence undoes the desired effect as we wait to discover if what we have just witnessed is in Capone’s head or reality. There is also a character that features in the film, seemingly in reality, where it transpires that he has been dead for many years and it’s rather frustrating that Trank doesn’t make more of a statement with the character in some of the earlier scenes he features – it ends up being rather anti-climatic.
That said, there is a terrific sequence where Capone wields a gold Tommy gun and wreaks havoc on his estate before an encounter with a crocodile. It’s clearly obvious from the onset of this scene with the absurdity of the situation that this isn’t real and it is easier to relax into the film.
The film is scored by El-P and is atmospheric in places but surprisingly lacks substance. Capone would have been better served by a more pulsating score that was in keeping with the madness portrayed on-screen. Peter Deming’s cinematography is suitably arresting, the moments of strong bloody violence that earn Capone its 18-rating are well realised, as is the sequence with a crocodile, a rare moment of vivid, kaleidoscopic colour that juxtaposes from the rest of the film’s suitably murky colour palette.
Capone ultimately represents an interesting follow-up for director Josh Trank that is neither as great as it could have been to redeem his image nor the terrible and repugnant disaster that some reviews have made it out to be. Trank has crafted this film on his own terms and it’s not a film for everyone. This is a film that warrants rewatching to further unpack its meaning. I’m grateful that this film exists and that Trank has stuck to his vision without compromise, even if the end result is flawed.