Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, I used to have a day job that required me to travel to various locations around the world, and no matter where I went, when you told the locals that you were from Chicago, the things they identify with the city were Michael Jordan and Al Capone (it’s because of this that I adopted the pseudonym “Capone” during my time as a writer for Ain’t It Cool News for nearly 20 years). So it seems especially poetic that two of the most talked about pieces of entertainment out in the world right now are a 10-part documentary series about Jordan and the Chicago Bulls (The Last Dance) and the film Capone, the trippy and twisted biography of the final, undignified year in the life of the gangster Al Capone (played by Tom Hardy, who inhabits every grotesque aspect of the man during this time).
Written and directed by Josh Trank (who helmed one of the better found-footage films, Chronicle, as well as one of the worst superhero movies ever, the most recent take on Fantastic Four), the movie captures the supposed experience of being inside Capone’s syphilitic brain, including delusions caused by rapidly advancing dementia. Here, Al is visited by the spirits of those he once cared about, those who betrayed him, and those he wronged in various ways. His body is literally rotting from the inside, and there are outward manifestations of this that involve every type of bodily fluid and all of their accompanying odors. I’ll thank the gods every day of my life that this movie didn’t come with a scratch-and-sniff card.
In addition to his imagined visitors, Capone’s paranoia is heightened by the very real presence of FBI agents (led by Jack Lowden, Dunkirk) spying on and recording his every move, as well as his shifty physician (Kyle MacLachlan), who is doing a bit of snooping himself. Both are attempting to discover if Al actually did hide a stash of money somewhere before his 11 years in jail for tax evasion, and are hoping the gangster will blurt something out during one of his episodes. Instead, Capone is attended to by his loving wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) and son (Noel Fisher), as he fends off most ghostly visions of long-gone friends, like fellow gangster and close friend played by Matt Dillion.
Deemed no longer a threat by the authorities, Capone was allowed to live out his life in his lavish Florida mansion, but money problems forced him to sell some of his prized possessions, so the metaphor is established that pieces of his home are vanishing about as rapidly as pieces of his mind are. Although he rarely uses recognizable words, let alone entire sentences, Hardy’s embodiment of Capone is impossible to ignore; he’s almost more animal than human at this point—grunting, squirming, sweating, decomposing—reminding me more of Danny DeVito’s Penguin in Batman Returns than Robert De Niro in The Untouchables. It’s a performance that is both admirable and repulsive—the man shits himself twice in this movie, once by accident and once for affect. But Hardy is a master craftsman, giving us an exaggerated, primal but still very plausible portrait of a once-powerful man whose brain is turning to mush, violently blending memories of his glory days with the ugly realities of his present.
I don’t get a sense that Trank is particularly concerned with capturing truth, but perhaps some of what’s presented in Capone is accurate and based in fact. Whatever the case, a lot of what we see here doesn’t feel especially real, particularly a climactic sequence where Al gets hold of a gold-plated Tommy gun and starts shooting up his mansion, along with a few of the folks who work for him. It feels like an unnecessary attempt to connect the man whose nickname was “Scarface” with Al Pacino’s fictional character. As if we don’t have enough reasons to bathe in hand sanitizer these days, Capone is a rough and slimy work that will make you feel unclean for watching it. But if you can stomach the occasional moments of blood and incontinence, you might actually appreciate a great deal of what the filmmaker and Hardy are attempting to do.
The film is available to buy or rent on VOD wherever you purchase/rent digital content.
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