“Capone” Movie Review


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     As the opening scenes of writer/director Josh Trank’s “Capone” begin to unspool, viewers will almost certainly begin to ask themselves whether the film is meant to be a serious exploration of the final year of Al Capone’s life or a complete farce meant to depict the entire ordeal as a circus.  Maybe it’s a little of both, but it’s difficult to get around the fact that Tom Hardy iteration of Capone seems to be channeling Robin Williams’ take on “Popeye” (1980) mixed with Linda Blair’s Regan from “The Exorcist” (1973).  Quite creepy to say the least.  Perhaps all of it is Trank’s way of communicating on screen the sheer insanity the once notorious Prohibition era Chicago gangster suffered from in his later years, but the resulting film is so off beat and at times ridiculous, it becomes an experience in utter buffoonery.

     Set in 1946, which would be the final of year of his life (he died January 25, 1947), Capone, referred to in the film as “Phonse” by his various family members and handlers, was released from prison in 1939 after serving about eight years for his famed 1931 tax evasion conviction  (a story that is well chronicled in Brian DePalma’s classic “The Untouchables” (1987)) when the affects of neurosyphilis had begun to significantly debilitate his mental and cognitive abilities.  And after a short stay in a treatment facility, Capone took refuge at his Palm Island, Florida mansion where he would live out his final years.  Trank tells the story of his last days where his condition rapidly deteriorated, causing those around him to begin investigating the rumored $10 million he had possibly hidden on the property.

     In an approach that seems akin to “The Shining” (1980) and the methodical downfall of Jack Torrance, we sit side by side with Capone (Tom Hardy) as he attempts to navigate the motives of those around him while consistently being haunted by the evil deeds of his past.  In addition to the imaginary visitors he regularly converses with, he deals with the near complete loss of his motor skills, regularly waking up having defecated in the bed and alarming his wife, Mae (Linda Cardellini), who can clearly sense the man she once knew has been whittled down to something more comparible to a child.  

     In an effort to maintain some semblance of health, his doctor, Doctor Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan), suggests he abandon the trademark cigars and instead replace them with a carrot.  A move that prompts his family to liken him to Bugs Bunny, a character who had only been invented about six years earlier.  All of the comedic aspects aside, Hardy brings forth a number of truly bizarre sequences including an impromptu sing along with the Cowardly Lion during a private screening of “The Wizard of Oz” which plays downright odd and almost out of place.  But then the guy goes number two in his diapers, complete with sound effects and surrounding people covering their noses, and you come to realize Trank wants to show us how miserable Capone was during his final days.  Almost a kind of comeuppance if you will for the countless brutal crimes he committed and ordered during his reign as the boss of one of history’s most vile crime syndicates.

     You could make the case that Hardy and Trank may have been going for something along the lines of Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar winning performance in last year’s “Joker”, but with the famed comic book supervillain, Phoenix had the pretext of a character we expect to be off the rails.  With Capone, it’s shocking to see someone of his stature fall so far and become inextricably helpless and wholly reliant on the care of those around him.  A notion that becomes even more apparent after he suffers a stroke and any semblance of rational thought is all but gone.  With all of these factors present, Hardy’s performance seems more cartoonish than tragic, leaving the film devoid of any real emotion.

     It also doesn’t help that the characters who surround him aren’t written with any sort of complexity or moral dilemma.  They seem to function within the story as pawns who are given dialogue to react to the various episodes befalling the family patriarch, rather than characters who actually are shown to have a reason to care.  If there was at least one other stand out performance to work against Hardy’s, perhaps Trank would’ve had something here.  But no one challenges Capone on an emotional level.  It’s as if these characters still believe he is the guy who once bred fear into the city of Chicago, when he is clearly only a shell of his once formidable self.

     As such, we get a number of scenes where characters played by Matt Dillon (Johnny), Al Sapienza (Ralphie), Katherine Narducci (Rosie), and Nole Fisher (Junior), all fine and capable actors, aren’t given the kind of juicy dialogue it would take to counter Hardy’s oddball over the top musings as a debilitated Capone.  This results in what I have to believe is an unintended genre bending experience where silly horror tropes overextend themselves, gutting much of the dramatic core necessary to tell a story about a once powerful man succumbing to both failing health and the demons who will reside with him forever.  GRADE: C