Film Review – Capone
Tom Hardy is one of his generation’s best actors, capable of drawing our attention regardless of the kind of character he plays. It says a lot of his skill level that a number of his roles have him covered by a mask and yet he still manages to be convincing. Knowing this, his latest work – headlining the title role in Capone (2020) – is such a tragedy given how disappointing the film is. This is a meandering, aimless slog through the final year of one of America’s most notorious criminals. It’s a bit mindboggling how a real-life figure – the subject of countless books, articles, movies, and television programs – can be depicted in such an uninteresting way.
Written and directed by Josh Trank, we drop in one full year before the death of gangster Al Capone (Hardy). This iteration features a 47-year-old Capone (referred to as “Fonse” instead of “Al”) way past his mob boss days. The power, violence, and fame of his early years have long since left him. He has served a decade in prison for tax evasion, his health is rapidly declining, and the onset of neurosyphilis has caused him to suffer extreme dementia. Instead of spending what time he has left in the comfort of his Florida estate with his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), Capone’s life is now one of constant paranoia and unease. His unpredictable nature poses a possible danger to himself and others. There’s also the presence of the FBI, closely watching Capone to determine if it’s all just an act to avoid further imprisonment.
The central point of tension is Capone’s deteriorating mental state. There are long stretches where the narrative will deep dive into various flashbacks and fever dreams. Capone could be sitting alone in his bedroom and will suddenly be transported to Chicago nightclubs at the height of the Prohibition era. He’ll encounter old friends and enemies (both alive and dead) and witness mob hits that he ordered. All this is edited together in a stream-of-consciousness approach, in which Capone comes face to face with all of his past deeds and tries to reconcile how a young boy of immigrant parents eventually became “Public Enemy #1.”
On paper, this story sounds intriguing enough. A criminal facing the existential consequences of their actions is prime for dramatic tension, just look at what Martin Scorsese did with The Irishman (2019). But Trank and the rest of the production come up terribly short on an emotional level. Too much emphasis is placed on mood and atmosphere and not enough on giving us reasons why we should care about this person. Despite the constant flashbacks and dream sequences, Capone is very much a blank slate. How are we supposed to find something to attach to if Capone can’t rely on his own sensibilities? Why should we care about a sociopath who was more than willing to kill people who got in his way? I think an attempt is made to address those issues through Mae and Capone’s estranged son, Tony (Mason Guccione), but it goes nowhere. Why is Mae so devoted to Capone even though he is a criminal? Why does Tony feel the need to reach back out to the family? These are questions that ran through my head but were never answered.
Tom Hardy gives a valiant effort in his portrayal of Capone, but this is one of the very few times where the character feels like a put on. Part of it is the makeup. With sweaty pale skin, blood shot eyes, and rashes all over his face, the makeup causes Hardy to look like something between an infected human and a reptile. The performance is written and directed without utilizing Hardy’s best skills. He is fantastic in using small gestures to reveal big emotions – this is why wearing a mask was not an issue with his past roles. But here, Hardy is reduced to a mumbling, incoherent mess. The majority of his dialogue is either grunting or gibberish. In an effort (I think) to save his health, Capone’s family replaced his massive cigars with carrots. I don’t know if this bit is true, but it doesn’t really matter. Watching Capone try to smoke a carrot comes off as comedy. Oh, there’s also the reoccurring scenes where Capone defecates himself in front of others. I don’t care how talented an actor is – pretending you’re pooping your pants in a so called “serious movie” is a challenge that may not be worth taking.
What are we supposed to feel about Al Capone during this final chapter? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him, a person who broke the law and murdered people without a second thought? Not once during the runtime did he express any kind of remorse or guilt. The gangster genre offers many reasons for us to visit – namely to witness people who operate outside of the law and the extremes they’re willing to take to maintain that lifestyle. But with Capone, all we get is a bad man who’s done bad things going through a bad time. It leaves us with the eternal question: “So what?”