Directed By Josh Trank
Starring – Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon
The Plot – Once a ruthless businessman and bootlegger who ruled Chicago with an iron fist, Alfonse Capone (Hardy) was the most infamous and feared gangster of American lore. At the age of 47, following nearly a decade of imprisonment, dementia rots Alfonse’s mind and his past becomes present. Harrowing memories of his violent and brutal origins melt into his waking life. As he spends his final year surrounded by family with the FBI lying in wait, this ailing patriarch struggles to place the memory of the location of millions of dollars he hid away on his property.
Rated R for strong/bloody violence, pervasive language and some sexuality
– Appearances are deceiving. As to where Hardy’s performance as a whole left plenty more to be desired, which I will get to later, the visual captivation of his on-screen transformation comes at the hand of some exceptional make-up and prosthetics work from the film’s cast and crew, that preserve merit in the smallest detail. The wrinkling on Hardy’s face is all cosmetically done without even a hint of computer generation to sell it, creating an excessively rapid aging design sold from the map of scars that string together his violent past in constant reminder. Finally, the many contacts that Hardy dons during physical and mental confrontations are bloodshot and full of believability for the way they articulate without feeling imposing on Hardy’s signature blueish green’s. It allows Tom the access to easily disappear in the role, and gives the film the surprisingly ample depth of artistic merit that it consistently earns behind every facial focus.
– Easily immersive. Once you understand that the film’s concept is a psychological delve into the mind of a madman, the frequent incoherence of spotty editing and surreal imagery starts to paint the picture for Capone’s mental decay. So instead of a conventional narrative, Trank instead paints a vividly deceiving reality that often times has us questioning if what we’re seeing is artificial, and always challenges us in ways creatively that few films offer in their awareness towards mental frailty. It would certainly be easy for Trank to show Capone just gritting and wincing from his once powerful stance, but to illustrate to us the audience seamlessly the kind of mental barriers that a majority of us will never confront or face, reminds us that every ounce of the movie’s pulse is in its titular character, giving definition to the film’s foggy clarity that frequently challenges us when magnetically stitching two scenes together.
– Unique plot. It’s refreshing and even cinematically daring when a film takes a polarizing figure like a 20th century mob gangster, and fleshes him out AFTER everything that makes him or his story defining as a dramatic biopic. This grants us many revealing inside looks that we often wouldn’t receive because of the reputation that earned him the nickname “Scarface”, but more than anything else it’s the way that the film gives us moments of heartfelt interaction between him and the youthful members of his family, that see him as nothing other than father or grandpa. In addition to this, it’s the candid aftershock of what has since happened after the bullets stopped flying that instills gravity and vulnerability to the character, bringing forth perhaps the only semblance of humanity the legendary violent figure has ever been cast in. There’s a hundred movies that show Capone in his prime, but only one invests its time in the fall of its story’s Caesar, and it makes this story original if nothing else.
– Hardy har har. Tom Hardy is my favorite actor going today, but even our favorites are subjected to a bad turn once in a while. Case and point is his meandering over-the-top approach to something that should be an academy achievement for his storied career. Instead, we are treated to a silly accent that makes his work as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” feel tame by comparison, and no shortage of untimely deliveries in his dialogue that will undoubtedly earn him a ticket at the Razzi table of next year’s awards. It certainly doesn’t help that Trank’s writing limits Hardy’s capabilities at every turn, reaching for comedic when a scene desires dramatic, but Hardy’s overly energetic enveloping makes him memorable for all of the wrong reasons, and gives us what I feel is easily his single worst performance to date. So much promise for something so clumsily mishandled.
– Entirely boring. There’s no easy way to say this; this was the single most difficult watch thus far in 2020. I say this because the film’s overall lack of kinetic momentum between scenes, as well as its arduous pacing, which makes 98 minutes feel like two hours, constructs an alienating narrative whose blame starts and ends with its director. Trank’s direction feels lazy here, blurring character motivations and lucid atmosphere in a way that disrupts our indulgence, making this feel like a collection of varying scenes instead of one cohesive project. It hurts enough that so much of the intrigue of Capone’s final days are shuffled over in a way that underscores the mystery of never found millions, but to sell incoherence to an audience who primarily don’t suffer from the condition isn’t going to earn relatability on a grand scale. It’s a messy, heavily flawed execution of a narrative with the flow in storytelling and audible annoyance of a grinding train set for derailment. The movie being ahead of the train in that destination.
– Disappointing plot structure. I mentioned earlier how a movie like this will cater to moviegoers yearning for the original side of Capone’s legendary biography, but the difficulties it garners in such a creative decision leave this thing ripe for thoughts of what could’ve been. From the cleverly manipulative advertising, to the momentary glimpses into Capone’s prior attitude through fantastical sequences, the movie seems to be conveying that the bigger, better movie is somewhere out there in the wind of cinematic opportunity, leaving us with this shell of a man and narrative that a majority of audiences won’t be seduced by. Finally, the frequency of trying to decipher what’s real and fake becomes frustrating when it doesn’t move us any closer to the clarity needed to feel attached to what exactly is transpiring. Because of this, it makes the film feel disappointingly one-note, giving off a feeling of a star player whose best days and most fascinating conflicts are far behind him.
– Cheap production value. Certain nagging issues that I had with the film’s presentation constantly clouded my investment into the film, both as a period piece and a lover of experimental cinematography. The shot compositions are rudimentary, and lacking of substantial meaning in what they capture. The audio dubbing is horrendously rendered, treating us to Capone talking a few times a second before his lips even move. Finally, The color scheme is often times too dark, and lacking visual clarity. This could easily point to the darkness in events surrounding the protagonist’s lifetime of mayhem, but for me sacrificed its capabilities in solidifying it with that grainy texture that comes with most films displaying a distinct age in cultural color. Instead of feeling like a film that transports us to the place and time, it never escapes feeling like a manufactured production of actors and sets whose appeal starts and ends at the door, refusing to ever capitalize on the imagination that this film is so desperately starving for.
– Tonally convoluted. It’s hard to figure out whether the movie intended to be a humorous look at senility, or if those moments of comic relief sprinkled in accidentally because of a series of over-performed deliveries. Whatever the case may be, the film resides somewhere in the middle, yet doesn’t feel like a full-fledged dramedy that other clearly defined predecessors have attained. Instead, my release in this film was that of a pitiful one, where the comedy never felt earned or appreciated for its offensive circumstance, and the dramatic elements never materialized because there’s literally no heft of consequences anywhere in a film about a man who we know died untimely. “Capone” is instead a litmus test for the audience. One that even hours after I still haven’t figured out. So if you want to watch a film where anything is possible tonally, check it out. You might even be able to tell Trank just what the hell he was thinking.
– Poor decisions. There are many to dissect here, but the obvious is clearly Trank’s irresponsibility in using comedy to steer moments of conflict within the mentally frail. Similar to “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson” from earlier this year, a movie so vile in its disrespect for real life victims, so too does “Capone” in matching it with a morally bankrupt depiction that often angered me. Beyond this, the linear screenplay is every bit grounded in expectations as it is flawed by no shortage of redundancy. This alludes not only to scenes and formula’s that repeat a few times throughout the film, but also conversations that hammer home a point ridiculously until the audience is spoon-fed what Trank desires from it. Equally as hurting as all of this, however, is the lack of characterization from the supporting cast that fails garnering us a single person to hang our weight of interest on. Cardellini is terribly underused, Dillon is nothing but an afterthought, and Twin Peaks’ own Kyle Machlachlan still orchestrates Lynchian vibes, even in a film where his role doesn’t necessarily require it. The worst kind of movies bring down armies amount of talent, and this one is certainly no exception.
– Third act misfires. Even in a film this buried in flat filmmaking and consequential decisions, it saves its best work for a climax, or lack therof, that floats away as the final emphasis on suspending expectations. Capone becomes a supporting character of sorts in his own movie, particularly during scenes with characters that orchestrate around him, and leave him chair-confined because of an untimely event that takes shape in the film’s second act. The film’s closing moments repeat the movie’s first scene, then end with an embrace that doesn’t feel remotely satisfying or even particularly forth-telling. It’s every bit as ambiguously revealing as it is a painful reminder of the wasted time you just invested, and is then cemented with last second on-screen text that once again allude to the better movie taking shape somewhere in the distance, with a director more ambitious than Trank turning the wheel of creativity.
My Grade: 3/10 or F+