About 20 minutes into Capone, the newest film from Chronicle and Fantastic Four director Josh Trank, we see an aging Alphonse Capone (Tom Hardy) sitting in a chair munching on an old cigar. The house that he occupies is lavish and full of mementos from his glory days as one of Chicago’s most infamous gangsters. Now, soon after being released from prison, he’s going broke and suffering from a serious case of neurosyphilis. His face is disheveled, his hair unkempt, and he talks with the voice of someone who has lived well beyond his years.
The aging gangster’s mental state was deteriorating at a massive rate. After vomiting and defecating on himself (not the only case of this), Capone sits and listens to a radio serial of an old escapade involving an actor playing him. He reminisces about those memories through the radio as if to feebly hope for another chance at that life. Yet, it’s completely impossible. At its core, Capone is the story of a once-fabled legend who is impotently grappling with the man he once was and whether the journey was worth the outcome.
Josh Trank has claimed that he identified closely with the story of Capone. It’s clear that his story is personal to him as he directed, wrote, and edited the entire film. Trank, after releasing Chronicle, was catapulted from an unknown to overnight success. The catastrophe of his next film, the critically derived Fantastic Four, led him to plunge directly to the bottom again. It was a spectacle that left Trank blacklisted and production of his Star Wars film canceled. Some may find it strange that Trank’s return to Hollywood is a swan-song to a Prohibition-era mobster, but his vision makes sense, execution aside. Capone aims to chart the parallels between the artist and his subject, but the lack of a concise narrative hinders this goal. The result is a muddled mess of a film that fails to realize its full potential.
Hardy’s performance as Al Capone is gnarled and full of wince-inducing moments. His voice is a strange cross between the unintelligible ramblings of late-era Marlon Brando and the mucous-filled delivery of Roz from Monsters Inc. Every word is garbled and barely audible. This is one of the most unorthodox performances Hardy has given, barely rivaling his role in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson.
It is a grotesque showcase of an aging American myth that doesn’t impress as much as it bewilders. It is oddly alluring to see Hardy go this off-the-wall. On occasion, Hardy does approach Travolta levels of ham. That being said, there is never a moment where Hardy doesn’t lean into the role fully. He completely embodies this character through every grunt and snarl.
The story attempts to include other characters but they are sorely underutilized and their arcs non-existent. Despite this, some performances work well with this mangled script, namely Linda Cardellini as Mae and Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s doctor. Cardellini, in particular, works decently alongside Hardy as his wife. She suffers through all of his nightmares and doctor’s appointments.
The majority of Capone’s runtime is spent detailing Fonz’s slow decay. Many scenes are simply reduced to Hardy sitting in a lounge chair or walking around his Florida mansion steadily puffing away at his cigar. Pacing is disregarded in favor of unnecessary flashbacks and an occasional mention of a large sum of money that Capone allegedly has hidden. This subplot tricks you into thinking that it’s important.
The aforementioned flashbacks and hallucinations involve Capone revisiting his glory days and going on violent rampages. These scenes offer promise, but are too haphazardly thrown together to cement any kind of tension with the narrative. No stakes are ever set and there is no established threat to be had. The movie just exists solely for its premise and nothing else.
Trank’s editing is shoddy with plenty of awkward cuts and lazy transitions, but it is compounded ten-fold during the last half hour. The disorienting, quick edits do not work for this type of dramatic, slow-burn story. It is nauseating to see Hardy bumble around in these visions especially when the setup for them is so poorly handled. Additionally, Trank fails to establish Capone as a redeemable character during these scenes. Instead of peppering in moments of self-reflection, the film opts for slow divergences that meander and end abruptly. We get no clearer sense of whether or not he has learned anything by the end.
Josh Trank’s Capone is an ambitious effort that is mired with flaws and unwelcome moments. With a cast of this caliber, the lack of anything to latch on to narratively stings even more. It’s not as embarrassing as it could have been, but that doesn’t save it from being a massive disappointment.