It’s 1946. Released from prison due to his late-stage syphilis, Al “Fonz” Capone (Tom Hardy) is convalescing at home in Palm Island, Florida.
Despite their grand, classically-styled estate, the family are broke; forced to gradually sell off their collection of paintings and statues. Even as Capone is losing his marbles, both figuratively and literally, going to pieces in his tropical paradise, the Federal government is convinced he has millions stowed away. But where? Does even he know any more?
Written and directed by Josh Trank, his first film since 2015’s Fantastic Four, Capone shows a legend in gold-leafed, shit-stained decline.
The prototype for classic movie gangster, Capone himself is surprisingly under-portrayed in fiction. When he is, he tends to be kept in support, as in The Untouchables or Boardwalk Empire. Perhaps that’s because it can be a struggle to get a handle on such a larger-than-life character.
For that, you need an actor like Tom Hardy. Few actors have eyes as expressive as Hardy, enabling him to bring a character to life whether he’s emoting through a mask, as in Dunkirk and The Dark Knight Rises, or stalking sconce-lit corridors with a poker, as here.
Peter Deming’s cinematography recalls The Godfather if it were remade by frequent collaborator David Lynch. Capone‘sopening title sequence in which the camera soars over the muddy, verdant backwaters of Florida reminded me of Twin Peaks (by way of Escobar) without ever knowing the connection.
There’s a touch of Don Corleone, too, in Tom Hardy’s performance; both self-evidently, in that raspy voice, and more subtly. A scene where Hardy hints at the physical strain on Capone, playing in the garden with the kids, hints at Marlon Brando amid the tomato vines.
Al’s eyes burn more darkly, though, than those of the benevolent Vito. And yet, Hardy brings flashes of humanity to Capone: a brief glimpse of sadness in the eyes when confronted by his own mortality, a twitch of regret on receiving a call from his secret son in Cleveland.
He is pitiful, but monstrously so. Pale, sweaty, rheumy of eye, and of course, scar-faced, this is Capone as the living dead. Even “The Voice”, a typical Hardy creation, is New Yawk by way of the underside of the bridge from the Three Billy Goats Gruff. It’s such a powerhouse turn – Black Mass with fewer prosthetics and more scenery chewing — that you can almost forget there’s not much actually going on; beyond the ranting and the raving, the snarling, spluttering, and occasional vomiting, pissing, or shitting himself.
Capone himself is stuck in a state of enforced passivity, un-reactiveness even, passing through what the opening inter-title informs us definitively is, “The final year of his life.” When a radio play purports to dramatise the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, Capone just looks confused.
If the broadcast is even really happening, that is.
Capone, the film and the man, is most animated when in the midst of hallucination; like a Prohibition-Era New Year’s Eve party when he’s welcome onstage by Louis Armstrong and meets his younger self in the bathroom mirror, looking like a gorilla with a tux and a fade.
It’s enough to make you wish for actual flashbacks.
Exacerbating Capone’s paranoia is the fact that there are FBI agents surveilling him, even if the extent is left ambiguous – are those binoculars glinting from the bushes real or imagined? — and that he is, in fact, surrounded by armed killers — “assassino”, he croaks, pointing vengefully; even if they’re men who have generally killed on his orders.
The supporting cast acquit themselves well — Linda Cardellini as the dauntless Mae Capone; Matt Dillon as the rugged, hyper-virile Johnny; Kyle MacLachlan as the mysterious Dr. Karlock; Hardy’s fellow Dunkirk alum Jack Lowden as blue-eyed Agent Crawford — but they’re thankless roles in service of a project that fails to find its gangster groove.
This is Scarface as elegy, but where that provided a memorable commentary on materialism and excess, Capone, like its subject, remains stubbornly, frustratingly, uncommunicative. It’s myth-busting, sure, but to what end?
Still, if you, like me, enjoy watching Hardy do his thing, be that puffing on a cigar, vamping hoarsely along to King of the Forest from Wizard of Oz, or firing a golden Tommy gun in nothing but a robe and adult diaper, then incident alone may be enough to keep you entertained.
Capone is currently on VOD release in the US. UK release date is still TBC.