Capone (2020)

The world did not need another film about Al Capone, and it especially did not need this one.  Ever since movies could talk, Capone has been depicted as a brash, charismatic killer.  He wallowed in excess and ego, an underworld titan emboldened by the foolish experiment of Prohibition.  With Josh Trank’s Capone, we fast-forward to the epilogue of that story, wherein the infamous gangster is a mere husk of his former self.  Ravaged by syphilis and years of drug abuse, Capone spends his days slobbering on chewed cigars and jabbering at hallucinations.  On one hand, this represents a new angle on the Capone legend.  Unfortunately, this is also an eccentric, unpleasant film that gets lost telling a story nobody was asking to hear.

It’s 1947, and the world has already left Al Capone (Tom Hardy) by the wayside.  After the seismic events of WWII, wiseguys smuggling hooch on Lakeshore Drive might as well have been something from a different century.  Sent to Alcatraz for tax evasion, Capone was eventually paroled when it became apparent that his mind and body were in rapid decline.  Like Napoleon at Saint Helena, Capone goes into terminal exile at some gaudy Florida mansion, a whimpering end for such a towering figure.  With him for this slow descent is Mae (Linda Cardellini), his wife of nearly three decades.

Capone also gets greeted by visions of his violent past.  Victims such as Johnny (Matt Dillon) show up to share a little sour mash and stir regret within what’s left of Capone’s psyche.  Somewhere in all these delusions, Capone lets slip that he’s stashed $10 million in cash to provide for his family.  The only problem?  Ol’ Scarface doesn’t have enough of a grip to remember where the hell it might be.  Pretty soon, everyone from his son (Noel Fisher) to his quack doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) try to solve the mystery of the missing loot.

That summation might have piqued your interest.  Capone is one of those movies that reads a lot better than it plays.  Trank’s script centers on Capone’s broken mind, prompting the narrative to wander in and out of reality. The result is a story that only feels semi-coherent and moves along at a maddeningly uneven pace.  Capone clocks in at 104 minutes, but its dour subject matter makes it seem a lot longer.

Part of the problem also lies with building the entire movie from this sliver of Capone’s life.  Trank skips to the end of an epic story, where all we’re left with is an unredeemable soul at its most unreachable point.  Capone mumbles through his stogies and wanders aimlessly through opulent corridors.  He can’t and won’t repent for his sins, so watching his blank stare in scene after scene is an exhausting experience that also renders the film dramatically inert.

This flaw gets further complicated by Hardy’s lead performance.  No doubt, Hardy is an audacious talent: If the dude can play Bane, Venom, and Mad Max, he’s earned a swing at just about any role.  But his Al Capone gurgles what little dialogue he has and occasionally slumps to the floor in writhing agony.  Hardy brings the full-tilt weirdness you might expect to the part, but in the absence of a meatier script, that weirdness is all there is.  As with Venom, it would be fascinating to see Hardy with better material.  This is an odd, off-putting film, and Hardy’s relentless ickiness only enhances that vibe.

Capone has drawn comparisons to Scorsese’s far-superior The Irishman.  It’s true, both films depict monstrous men who live long enough to feel regret and remorse seep deeply into their marrow.  But while The Irishman shows us withered killers who must untangle complex memories, Capone centers on a man made old before his time, robbed of even his very identity.  Ultimately, Al Capone’s spirit drowns in shallow water, and the movie goes under right along with it.

104 minutes.  R.

Author: Todd Wofford

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