Every mobster’s life is filled with the ghosts of the past and the nightmares of the dead that come back to haunt them. It is a dangerous life ruled by guns and muscle and stained in blood. Men like Al Capone were monsters and far from the sometimes-glamorous portrayals that we have seen countless times before. Gangsters are murderers who, we can only imagine, are ultimately haunted by their deeds when their life comes to the end.
The new anti-mobster film, “Capone,” is an array of of fits and starts. Each scene is a self-contained idea that begins, meanders, and ends and moves on to the next idea. Not one scene feeds the next. The whole exercise seems like a bevy of deleted scenes cobbled together in search of a collective voice.
Edited, written, and directed by Josh Trank, “Capone” (formerly titled “Fonzo”) was set to release theatrically this month until COVID-19 stepped in like Elliott Ness raiding an illegal distillery.
Tom Hardy plays Al Capone in the final days of his life. Due to his declining health, he is allowed to live out the rest of his prison term at his home on Palm Island in Miami Beach, Florida.
Already ravaged in the face and mind by syphilis, Capone spends his final days in mental decay, sitting amongst his family, business associates, and bodyguards hallucinating and chomping on cigars.
As Capone’s wife Mae Linda Cardellini is completely wasted. While I’m sure the real Mae had a rough time of it in dealing with her dying husband and worrying about their financial ruin once he is gone, the screenplay doesn’t know what to do with her. The actress is reduced to a one-note portrayal wearing an almost constant frown to the point where she, and her role, become perfunctory.
There is a subplot where everyone from his family to the F.B.I. suspects that Capone has stashed away ten million dollars in stolen cash somewhere on the massive grounds of his estate. Except for his wife and sister, no one is fully convinced Al Capone isn’t faking it.
This causes round-the-clock surveillance from federal agents led by Special Agent Crawford (Jack Lowden). Even Capone’s own brother-in-law (the always reliable Al Sapienza) tried to get “Fonse” to remember where he hid the money. Students of history (and viewers who were suckered into watching Geraldo Rivera’s embarrassing 1986 special “The Mystery of Capone’s Vault”) will know the money was never found.
Matt Dillon gives a fine performance as “Johnny,” obviously Johnny Torrio, Capone’s mentor of sorts. His scenes with Capone have a calm to them and Dillon is very natural and subdued. However, the reason for the appearance of Dillon’s character is spoiled for us much too early and loses its potency.
Trank should be commended for thinking outside of the box in creating this film. Cinema has had enough rise and fall mobster films and those wishing to see Tom Hardy chewing up the scenery De Niro-style will be disappointed.
Examining the last days of the Al Capone’s life and his haunting visions and paranoid dementia was a smart take.
The aura of the moments where Capone is alone with his demons take on a surreal quality that is sometimes structured with a horror-esque atmosphere. One could almost say this is indeed a film about ghosts.
Capone himself is a ghost. Isolated and existing in the cold world of his fading mind, the sins of his life manifested into the syphilitic lesions on his already scarred face. His eyes blank and distant, hiding the evil that he once was.
Tom Hardy is quite good in the title role. As with most of the actor’s performances, his Capone is a master class on the definition of commitment.
While this particular performance wears out its welcome a little past the halfway point, watching this talented actor at work is always pleasurable. With not many lines (a great deal of his time is spent grumbling unintelligibly) Hardy is mesmerizing.
It is Josh Trank’s jumbled editing and meandering narrative style that lets Hardy’s performance down. In capturing Capone’s dementia through visions he may or may not be having, Trank stumbles when trying to turn it into interesting cinema.
The filmmaker never gets a grip on the dramatic and moments play badly and seem unfinished, with some inducing eye rolls as they strive for a small comical levity. A bastard son that is more of a nuisance is mishandled badly resulting in a final scene that goes for warmth but, instead, results in unintentional laughs.
The sequence where Capone grabs his gold-plated Tommy Gun and sprays bullets into his backyard (and into a few workers) goes for macabre humor but falls flat in its presentation. And most embarrassing, a scene where Capone defecates in his pants while being grilled by Agent Crawford is out of place. Are we supposed to feel bad for Capone? Should we laugh? The scene is unclear and plays like a bad outtake.
Nothing makes me happier when a director subverts audience and filmmaking expectations and my hat is off to Josh Trank for his idea on how to present this story, but he just doesn’t know what to do with it all.
Trank sets his sights high but doesn’t have the reach. The film is too disjointed and ultimately dull. At only an hour and forty minutes running time, it becomes an arduous task to sit through.
“Capone” is a film that wants to be about so much but comes up dramatically hollow. We need much more than an empty retread of the philosophical episodes from “The Sopranos.