Capone (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon 
Certificate: 18
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.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

I Care A Lot (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: J. Blakeson
Starring: Rosmaund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Dianne Wiest 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 118 mins

I Care A Lot is a gripping and wild black comedy-thriller that keeps its audience on its toes throughout. Rosamund Pike plays Marla Grayson, a morally bankrupt but cool-as-a-cucumber con artist who preys and scams on the older generation by becoming their ‘legal guardian’ and sending them to a care home, whilst she profits from selling their property and assets. Marla is assisted by her lover and business partner, Fran (Eiza Gonzalez) who has an equal disregard for the ethics of her actions. After targeting what is defined early on in the film as a ‘cherry’ – a single lady called Jennifer Paterson (Dianne Wiest) who has no family but vast amounts of wealth, on paper this should be the perfect opportunity for them to profit. Jennifer is quickly whisked away into a care home, which is not too dissimilar to a prison in its construction. Marla faces a visit from a stash-carrying lawyer who warns her that Jennifer is ‘the worst mistake you will ever make’, a gripping game of cat-and-mouse ensues with elements of revenge, a no-nonsense, smoothie-drinking villain who is very much Marla’s match and ties to the Russian mafia.

Directed by J. Blakeson, I Care A Lot is directed with an improved and impressive assurance for only the directors third feature. Blakeson crafts some intense sequences which are really well developed in their Hitchockian construction. The performances are fantastic across the board. This is familiar territory for Rosamund Pike, Marla a character cut from the same cloth as her Oscar-nominated performance in Gone Girl. Eiza González is just as strong as her partner in crime. Peter Dinklage is clearly having fun as the villain and Dianne Wiest deftly manages to balance the hopelessness but hidden intelligence of Jennifer. Isaiah Whitlock Jr. has a small but humorous role as a Judge who is very much under the spell of Marla.

The film from start to finish is really excellent. Perhaps some of the twists the film takes in its third act aren’t quite as fresh as the beginning and it begins to move away from its smart commentary in the first two acts on the elderly generation. The notion that this could happen to you when you are older is genuinely frightening and really doesn’t feel that far removed from reality. I’m also not sure on the film’s ending and I felt that there was a clear end point which would have been more enigmatic for the audience, rather than there being an actual conclusion. The film features an interesting synth score which contrasts with the events unfolding on-screen but sometimes aggressively doesn’t fit.

Ultimately, I Care A Lot is a wild ride throughout and is thoroughly entertaining. This is not only J. Blakeson’s best work in his career, this is also one of the best films of the year so far.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

News Of The World (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

News of the World represents a different filmic venture for director Paul Greengrass, most notable for the Jason Bourne series and his dramatisations of original events with films such as United 93 and Captain Phillips. This is a quiet, contemplative Western that save for one stake-out on a hill mid-way through, is bereft of action. It couldn’t be more far removed from the rest of his filmography, also foregoing his signature twitchy handheld camera and docu-drama aesthetic. 

Tom Hanks plays Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a Confederate veteran who makes a living travelling from town to town in 1870’s America, reading the news to local populations for ten pence per person. Captain Kidd’s relatively simple life is overturned when he encounters an overturned cart where twice orphaned Johanna (Helena Zengel) is discovered after she runs past him terrified. Johanna has quite a back story – she came from a German farming community who were attacked by a Kiowa tribe, where they then made her part of her community and now the Kiowa’s have been cleared out by the American army. After trying to deliver her to the relevant authorities who can take her to safety, Kidd decides to take the task up himself to reunite her with her closest family, an aunt and uncle who live on a farm on the far side of the state. Along the way, he stops to read the news to various communities to finance the journey, one community in particular drawing parallels with modern day politics in how its dictator gives Kidd his approved news to read and he has an army to ‘cleanse’ the county of any outsiders.

Both performances by Tom Hanks and Helena Zengel are exemplary. Despite Hanks’ vast variety of roles, this his first official Western (although arguably, Woody in Toy Story is close!). The young Helena Zengel impresses and the two establish a convincing rapport. When the film reaches its action setpiece mid-way through, Greengrass has already more than allowed audiences to have an emotional investment in the duo Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography is terrific, with sweeping panoramic vistas with a gallery quality that draws parallels with The Searchers, one shot in particular harkens back to its ending.

However, News of the World is only good. The Western has had a resurgence in recent years with some outstanding additions to the genre such as The Hateful Eight, Bone Tomahawk and Hell Or High Water. As there have been so many examples of strong work that perhaps have established an unreasonably high bar, it’s disappointing that News of the World doesn’t come close. It’s perfectly acceptable that Greengrass’ film sticks to convention but there isn’t a great deal of substance here both in its narrative or tonal quality. Even James Newton Howard’s try-hard score doesn’t really stick.

Ultimately, News of the World is a modest and well-intentioned Western with strong performances but it doesn’t try to reinvent or progress the genre, is narratively thin and fails to leave a lasting impression.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)