I was rooting for this movie for one reason: director Josh Trank. I really enjoyed his found-footage anti-superhero eye-opener, Chronicle, and even though I was far from giving a recommendation to his attempt to reboot the Fantastic Four, I didn’t find it deserving of the backlash and ridicule it got. Apparently after that film was released, a lot of movie offers for Trank dried up and he was all of a sudden unemployable and he went into a major depression, and this movie is him trying to get back in the spotlight. I was rooting for him, because even if I’ve seen a lot of pretty bad features in my time, I can’t really name a film I’ve seen off the top of my head that was so bad I didn’t feel the director deserved to continue working. Perhaps the sole exception, just from what I’ve heard, would be Dinesh D’Souza for his borderline offensive so-called documentaries about Democrats, but I honestly don’t believe in film directors not deserving second chances.
So here’s my review of Trank’s first feature in five years, a psychological drama-thriller about the infamous and legendary Al Capone.
The film begins with an opening monologue talking about how Alphonse Capone (nicknamed Fonz for those closest to him and played by Tom Hardy) used to be the world’s most notorious gangster until he was sentenced to prison on October 17, 1931, for income tax evasion of all things. I remember I visited Alcatraz once, and I saw a photo of him as a prisoner there, apparently from 1934. He was the only prisoner in a row of photos who was grinning. But in reality prison wasn’t something he got by in. He was diagnosed with syphilis there. He was released almost a decade later, but in Capone’s freshest days, there were a lot of people killed from his command, and he was protected enough to avoid police from having any surefire evidence. Still, he was able to be paroled thanks to help from his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini).
So he’s out. But now what? The former notorious crime boss and potential St. Valentine’s Day massacre of 1929 is now a crippled mess and he’s not sure if he’ll ever be even sane again, as he’s now living in his Palm Island mansion with his family and caretakers, and he has to watch statues and furniture being taken away for extra money, and sleazy well-dressed cops are keeping their eyes on him like hawks. Which leaves one question; what in the world’s gonna happen???
Right off the bat, two things are obvious; Tom Hardy gives a committed, completely unapologetic performance, and the set and makeup designers put him in an unapologetically beautiful setting and a frighteningly demented human being. Hardy’s accent is gravelly gangsta while also forced to being anemic and taut as he slowly deteriorates. This Al Capone is in even worse shape than Adam Sandler’s character in Uncut Gems, Howard Bryant. Most of the time, Hardy looks as pale as a corpse. Halfway through the film, Capone is told to him by a therapist that he’s 48 years old, and my mother who was watching this with me said he looks more like he’s in his eighties. Hardy also must’ve worn lenses, cause I’ve never seen eyes that bloodshot before. The mansion, and its statues that take up most of the credit opening sequences, are beautifully shot and built, while at the same time giving the impression they’re mocking our protagonist. “You had everything, now you don’t, and you’ll never have it again!” it all seems to convey.
The movie is not just different, but quite refreshingly unpredictable. We have no idea if Hardy will keep his cool or go ballistic. We don’t know when he’ll end up snapping nor for what purpose. When he’s forced to go cold turkey on cigars, we aren’t able to foretell if that’ll make him better or worse. It’s also not overlong at a reasonable 96 minutes, and near the end there’s a chilling confrontation Hardy’s forced into, with detectives who are after money Capone presumably has hidden away. The movie is also stacked with chilling bloodshed, plus a mixture of guilt and desire to return to how things were all rattling in Capone’s mind. There are stabbings, gunshots on people and alligators, deliberate slicing off of someone’s eyes, and turmoil about a long-lost relative. There’s a bloody scene that’s as brutal and chilling as the best horror slasher movies out there.
But a flaw right off the bat is some timeline confusion. “This is the final year of his life” is one of the lines in the opening monologue. Now, it’s obvious Al Capone is dead by now. If he weren’t he’d be 121 years old today. But not every moviegoer knows how old he lived and it gives a spoiler-feel to what we should expect from the movie if we’re not already well informed about the person or saw the trailer. Not just that, but the monologue said it was a decade after his imprisonment in 1931 he got to go home but it must’ve been some time since that happened because it’s mentioned Hitler is dead.
Also, it’s discussed how Capone’s actions prior to his imprisonment caused his family to be unable to use their real names in the outside world for their connection to him, and I felt that could’ve been more explored. There’s a rather chilling flashback, or illusion, or dizzy spell, whatever you wanna call it, where he’s looking into a mirror and seeing a reflection of before he lost weight, back when everyone cared for his every need. Matt Dillon’s character also talks about how in spite of everything, he respects Capone. Capone talks to his son, played by Noel Fisher, about another son he has which he never told anyone about. And I feel these side stories could’ve been given more development, with a few less scenes of just staring mutely into the eyes of the disgraced former gang member.
I was close to recommending this film, but it has an ending that, even if I definitely didn’t see coming and gives Hardy something in his hand that tells a million stories, and when you see him holding it in his mental state he looks like a straight-up animal, is overly reliant on fake-outs, a movie tactic I really don’t enjoy when put in the climax of a feature. It also ends with unanswered questions and not enough info about Al Capone and his family. If the movie changed its ending and substituted some scenes for more exciting or interesting ones, it would’ve been a wholehearted recommendation.
So as a whole, Capone may or may not be worth seeing. It wasn’t an adrenaline shot but it wasn’t a wrecking ball either. I could see what Josh Trank was doing, and not only do I hope this gets him some new job offers after COVID-19, but I’m also looking forward to what he does next, which I hope I’ll enjoy more.