Director Josh Trank nearly had his career sidelined by a studio who butchered the vision of his “Fantastic Four” reboot. Now Trank is fighting his way back to the top, by not letting any studio interfere with his newest film “Capone” as he does triple duty as editor, writer and director. “Capone” is the true story of what transpired in the mobsters final year. He suffered from syphilis and dementia, while beset by money troubles and battling his memories and hallucinations. Tom Hardy, covered in an all too obvious of a make-up job stars as the ruthless gangster. While there is sequences of disturbing violence, it isn’t a gangster picture in the traditional sense. Nor is it a full fledged biography, with Tom Hardy’s ferocious lead performance to Trank’s at times aggressively gruesome, grotesque and non conventional script. “Capone” is more about him as a person and as a public figure, that is both fascinating and captivating. Trank gets credit for making a wild and unconventional picture, and for daring to do something different with its subject that we haven’t seen before. Even with it’s problems (it has problems including dangling plot holes), but you can’t deny that it’s all well made.
In 2012 the found-footage comic book movie “Chronicle,” had introduced us (or at least it was my introduction) to actors Dane Dehaan (“A Cure For Wellness”) and Michael B Jordon (“Creed”). It also introduced us to director Josh Trank, who was directing his first major film and looked to have a future ahead of him as a filmmaker.
After “Chronicle”, Trank attempted the superhero genre again in 2015. A bigger budget, bigger stars and certainly a more ambitious film. It was Trank’s attempt to reboot the “Fantastic Four” films. Unfortunately the filmmaker’s red hot career flamed out with the release of “Fantastic Four”. I own the film in my Blu Ray collection, but I’ve never watched it. “Fantastic Four” was said to be an ill conceived superhero reboot that was torn apart by critics and went on to lose tens of millions of dollars at the box office.
Blame for the failure fell squarely on Trank, when if you look at it, the blame should have fell on the studio who chopped up his vision. Which is why Trank had tweeted that the studio version of “Fantastic Four” differed dramatically from his own vision. Trank was at the center of a series of articles that claimed he oversaw a chaotic set and competing creative visions.
The troubles didn’t end there for Trank as he was said to be from the “Star Wars” spinoff movie he was supposed to direct and saw other big movie offers dry up. Trank said in an interview with Variety that his life was upended. “I’d gone from being in a place where I was extremely successful professionally. For a good four-year period, I had experienced what it feels like to have the world at your fingertips. I was working with the most powerful corporations in the world and I’d gone from the top to being broke and sitting in my backyard chain smoking. I wasn’t knowing what was going to happen in a few months when my bank account ran out. I had no professional opportunities coming my way in the near future”.
Now Trank is fighting his way back to the top by not letting any studios mess with his vision like they did with “Fantastic Four”. Trank takes on triple duty as editor, writer and director for his newest film “Capone”. Formerly titled Fonzo (which was Capone’s nickname). Although I wish Trank kept that as the title, his film is a look at the final year in Capone’s life following the gangster’s stint as the most notorious force in organized crime.
His final year found him suffering from syphilis and dementia, while beset by money troubles and waiting to die at his compound in Florida. “Venom” and “Mad Max Fury Road” star Tom Hardy, covered in an all too obvious of a make-up job as the ruthless gangster. “Capone” made it’s world premiere on demand and streaming services on May 12th, 2020.
Trank said in the Variety interview “This seed of an idea popped into my head based on all of my own reading about Al Capone from when I was a kid. I knew about that time in his life after he was released from Alcatraz when he was suffering from neurosyphilis. He was just in his own backyard in Palm Island smoking cigars and not really interacting with other people. He was so far away from being that reigning king of Chicago and one of the most powerful and feared men in the world”.
“Capone” isn’t a gangster picture in the traditional sense, although you’ll get plenty of that gangster imagery, we have become accustomed to in mob movies. Although there is it’s sequences of disturbing violence (in one scene, get ready to see a man use a switchblade to remove his own eyeballs). “Capone” is blanketed with images of tommy guns, cigars, heavily accented mobsters torturing one another and tough talking government agents in fedoras. Nor is it a full fledged biography, but it is fascinating and captivating.
As we focus more about both Capone as a person and as a public figure. This is a go-for-broke movie on every level, from Tom Hardy’s ferocious lead performance to Trank’s at times aggressively gruesome, grotesque and non conventional script. “Capone” is an hour and forty minute study of a broken titular mob boss, who is a jumbled, incomprehensible mess.
We get glimpsed visions of Capone’s ugly past, but they, too, are just as broken and jumbled. Capone literally hobbles along through the dark of his mind, unsure of what’s real and what isn’t, but the movie can also be confusing to the viewer by cutting back and forth between Al’s reality and the movie’s reality.
Capone’s family (including his incredibly patient wife, played by a stellar Linda Cardellini), and a small army of gardeners, servants and handymen fill out his massive estate in Palm Island, Florida, where everyone does their best to navigate Fonzo’s outbursts and occasional cruelty as he suddenly explodes in a fit of verbal obscenities. He sits for hours in a chair, chewing a cigar and looking out across the lake behind his house, which he believes that someone is watching him from the other side? Which can or can’t be true as the FBI were keen on nailing him until his last breath.
This is not an Al Capone we’ve ever seen on screen before, but it’s one that true crime aficionados and Capone enthusiasts have been curious to see explored in a drama. “Capone” offers an intimate, sometimes challenging look at one of America’s most notorious figures. There’s very little of anything related to Al Capone other than his health, that drives Trank’s movie. That is a big factor as to why “Capone” never comes together to form much of a narrative, because there really isn’t one.
Trank tries to come up with a couple subplots, but just ends up leaving dangling plot threads. There is a subplot about $10M (which just plays as the films McGuffin), which Capone may or may not have hidden somewhere on the property, and the various people and government officials who seek to get their hands on it.
Or where Capone supposedly has an illegitimate son who appears to be in cahoots with some of the government officials and there is a doctor (played by Kyle MacLachlan of “Twin Peaks”), who’s trying to avoid prison time as he plays doctor to Capone. These threads exist but they’re never fully explored or resolved.
Tom Hardy gives one of his most Actor-y performances, one that ranges from scenery-chewing to being incredibly nuanced, he even sometimes mixes it within the same scene. It may take a bit for viewers to adjust to Hardy’s gravelly, extremely mumbly and inaudible speaking voice, both of which will remind you of past Hardy roles and two “Dick Tracy” villains. Then again Capone inspired the villains of “Dick Tracy”, especially of Big Boy Caprice.
Going back to Hardy’s inaudible dialogue, there is no known audio recordings of Capone that exist and he never spoke on video. Trank says he was inspired by comedian Jimmy Durante, an Italian-American born around the same time in Brooklyn. “That’s how we landed on the accent,” says Trank. If they wanted to go for an accent then I’m not against that decision but to make him so inaudible was the wrong creative choice.
Hardy’s Capone reminded me of the recent Javier Bardem film “The Roads Not Taken” from Sally Potter. Both men battling dementia, changing them mentally and physically to where they are losing both themselves and their minds, while someone has to constantly care for them. There is similarities in both performances. Nobody other than Hardy or maybe Nicolas Cage could pull-off a demented Al Capone in a typically overblown scene in which the diaper-wearing mobster wields a gold-plated Tommy Gun while on a shooting spree, while chomping on a carrot cigar.
As far as Capone’s actual personality, Trank says: “That’s an interpretation. When somebody is that famous, we all have our idea of who that person might have been. Based on my knowledge and research, I was confident I was writing about what he was like at the time”. Trank has paid his dues for “Fantastic Four” and while he says we will never get to see his cut of the film, he doesn’t owe anything to anybody anymore. Nothing in either “Chronicle” or “Fantastic Four”, would have suggested that Trank had this kind of movie in him.
“Capone” will not be for everyone, actually it won’t be for most people because it’s not meant for general audience consumption. But there will be a certain bunch that will love this movie. It’s a film which challenges and provokes their audience and subverts expectations. “Capone” has the feeling of a cult classic in the making. You have to give Trank credit for making a wild and unconventional picture, and kudos for daring to do something different with its subject that we haven’t seen before. Even with it’s problems, you can’t deny that it’s well made.
GRADE: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)