Capone (Review)

Capone (2020)
BRON Studios

Directed by : Josh Trank
Written by: Josh Trank
Starring: Linda Cardellini, Tom Hardy, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon

There is a moment in Josh Trank’s new film Capone where the eponymous gangster listens to a radio play featuring a moustache-twirling, fictionalized version of himself, spewing one-liners that would make a republic serial villain look subtle in comparison. There’s a certain sense of irony to Trank presenting this dichotomy, drawing on his own vilification from the press during the fallout from his critical and commercial disaster Fantastic Four, considering the film itself is anything but a subtle, nuanced portrait of its central figure.

Detailing the twilight years of one the world’s most notorious men, there’s not so much a set narrative to Capone as much as there is a sense of mood. Told almost exclusively from his point of view, the film opts for a stream of consciousness approach; switching between fantasy and reality to capture his deteriorating mental health. Contrary to the title, this isn’t the Scarface we’re used to seeing on our screens; gone is the dominating force of nature who smashed heads in The Untouchables, in its place a withered, senile man in the midst of a losing battle with neurosyphilis.

In a recent interview with Polygon, Trank chalked up the film’s trouble with distribution to “an industry wary of challenging art”. In a certain regard he’s right; it’s hard to see a big movie studio green-lighting a 100-minute exploration of dementia where the biggest point of conflict is between a man and his bladder. However, Capone doesn’t feel like it offers much beyond recreating that state of mind in the broadest cinematic terms possible; right down to blatant homages to The Shining, Fight Club and Twin Peaks. Trank wants to make art with a “euro edge”, but outside of an occasional sense of discomfort and confusion, there’s nothing all that interesting to chew on. It aspires to be bonkers but ends up with “mildly strange” at best; it aspires for atmosphere, but just winds up reminding you of better examples of the same techniques.

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Tom Hardy, with facial prosthetics that read closer to monster than mobster, plays the role with the kind of Brechtian, out-there performance that would make Al Pacino’s Tony Montana blush. Acting with a capital-A, Hardy doesn’t chew the scenery so much as devour it whole, continuing his streak of bold and risky choices, right down to a voice that sounds like a cross between Bugs Bunny and the Godfather. You’re either going to be on the same wave-length or you’re not, but I personally thought it worked, histrionics and all. It’s a great, gonzo performance in search of a more interesting movie to contain it.

In terms of the supporting cast, Linda Cardellini is reliable as always, playing Al’s wife Mae with a level of warmth and naturalism that complements Hardy’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach. It’s always nice to see Kyle MacLachlan get more work, but his character feels very under-served by the screenplay. Matt Dillion is charismatic, if a bit one-note, while Hardy’s Dunkirk co-star Jack Lowden displays some serious future A-list potential in the few scenes he’s allowed to speak in.

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Trank is trying to make challenging, thought-provoking cinema but it winds up feeling sophomoric for large stretches; like a very expensive student film that managed to score Tom Hardy. The cinematography from the often-great Peter Deming feels surprisingly plastic, while the score from Run the Jewel’s El-P is forgettable at best.

A year ago, perhaps Trank had a fantastic version of this. And it might have received great reviews. We’ll never see it. That’s reality though.

CAPONE is out now on all major VOD platforms, distributed by Vertical Entertainment

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