May 12, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Josh Trank
Culture Representation: Taking place in Miami Beach in 1947, the drama “Capone” has a predominantly white cast (with some Latino representation) and tells the story of the last year in the life of notorious mobster Al Capone.
Culture Clash: Suffering from neurosyphilis, a demented Capone has flashbacks to his gangster life and has conflicts with family members over his failing health.
Culture Audience: “Capone” will appeal mainly to people who are fascinated with famous American mobsters, but this incoherent movie gives little insight into Capone’s last days.
Just like the way that the title character acts in the movie, the dramatic film “Capone” is a lumbering, stumbling mess that has trouble focusing and has difficulty finding a purpose. Tom Hardy, who seems to be attracted to playing a lot of menacing characters who mumble a lot, is notorious Chicago gangster Alphonse “Al” Capone in the film. The once-powerful mob boss is a shadow of his former self in the last year of his life in 1947, when Capone was a 48-year-old recluse with neurosyphilis at his mansion in Miami Beach.
“Capone” (written, directed and edited by Josh Trank) is basically a 103-minute slog through various scenes of Capone (who insists that people call him Fonz, not Al) either hallucinating, having angry outbursts, or losing control of his bodily functions. Hardy—in grotesque makeup that makes him look like something out of a horror movie—gives it his best shot at delivering an earnest performance of Capone on a downward spiral, physically and mentally. But, unfortunately, the film is so poorly written and directed that “Capone” will be considered one of the low points of Hardy’s career.
There is no real plot to the movie, which takes place almost entirely at the mansion where Capone (released early from prison for tax evasion) is holed up with his loyal wife Mae (played by Linda Cardellini) and employees, including his main goon Gino (played by Gino Cafarelli). Instead of having a coherent story, the movie is supposed to be more like a fever dream that culminates in a machine-gun massacre that didn’t happen in real life.
At different parts of the film, Capone has visions of himself as a child. And there are scenes of him having elaborate dinners with relatives that include his son Junior (played by Noel Fisher), who spends most of the film looking mournful over his father’s pathetic decline. And throughout the movie, a character named Tony (played by Mason Guccione), who’s supposed to be Capone’s long-lost son, keeps calling from Cleveland. Sometimes, Tony talks on the phone when he calls, and other times he calls and says nothing. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.
There’s a character named Dr. Karlock (played by Kyle MacLachlan), who occasionally comes to visit and fret about Capone’s declining health. When the doctor tells Capone’s relatives that cigar-loving Capone has to give up smoking, the relatives act as if the news is as bad as getting a limb amputated. The doctor suggests that Capone chew on a carrot as a substitute for a cigar, and Karlock demonstrates how it can be done. In response, Gino mocks the doctor for looking like Bugs Bunny. However, for the rest of the movie, viewers will see the bizarre spectacle of Hardy trying to look tough with a carrot in his mouth.
There’s also a laughable scene where Capone is watching “The Wizard of Oz” in a private screening room, when he gets up and sings along to the Cowardly Lion song “If I Were King of the Forest.” In the scene, Cardellini has a hard time keeping a straight face. And most people watching will either laugh or be horrified that Hardy (who’s capable of doing Oscar-caliber work) sunk this low to do this poor-quality film that’s so bad, it’s almost campy.
Capone also has a friend that comes to visit named Johnny (played by Matt Dillon), whose history with Capone isn’t really explained, except that it’s implied that they’ve known each other since before he was in prison. And they know each other well enough for Capone to confide in Johnny while they’re on a fishing trip that Capone has $10 million hidden, but he can’t remember where he hid the money.
But is this real or all in Capone’s head? That question can be asked about many things in the movie. While Johnny drives the car that they take to the fishing trip, Capone is disguised as a woman because he’s paranoid about the government agents who are on his property and watching his every move. If the world needed to see a movie with Capone in drag, you now have writer/director Trank to thank for that.
Trank, by the way, cast himself in “Capone” in a cameo as a FBI agent named Clifford Harris, who accompanies another FBI agent named Stone Crawford (played by Jack Lowden) when they visit the ailing Capone at his home. The FBI agents are on a fruitless quest to get Capone to reveal the secret places where he might have hidden a fortune worth millions. Capone’s attorney Harold Mattingly (played by Neal Brennan) sits in on this pointless interview, and answers most of the questions on behalf of Capone, who can barely grunt answers to the questions.
And then there’s Capone’s nasty temper. He yells at the Latino employees who do yard work on his property, and shouts at one of them that if he touches a certain statue, he’ll blow his head off. While on the fishing trip with Johnny, Capone shoots an alligator for “stealing his fish.” And something as simple as seeing Gino eating at the dinner table is enough to set off Capone, who flings the tablecloth and food, and stomps around and howls like a gorilla that’s been stung by a bee.
Capone is also verbally abusive to his wife Mae. When he spits on her, she hits him so hard that he falls down and hits his head on a hard-surface floor. There’s no purpose to this scene, except to put some of the blame on Mae for the head injury that further causes Capone’s mental deterioration. Like many things in the movie, do not assume that any of it happened in real life.
And that’s not all the violence in the film. Capone has flashbacks or hallucinations about fatal shootings and brutal stabbings. There’s also a scene where he hallucinates that Johnny has pried his own eyes out and served the bloody eyeballs to Capone on a bedsheet. What’s the point of all this gore? Nothing, really, except to remind people that this is supposed to be a movie about a gangster.
Even the most die-hard fans of Hardy will have their patience tested by watching this mindless film, which has moments that are downright embarrassing to everyone involved in the movie. One can only assume that Hardy was attracted to this “Capone” role for a chance to play dress-up as one of the most famous American mobsters of all time. But he’s reduced to being a grunting, marble-mouthed caricature that can barely put a thought together. The movie has no impactful flashbacks that show Capone in his prime, except for a silly scene that has Capone imagining himself at a party where he gets up on stage with the band leader to sing Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill.”
The blame for this sewage dump of a movie lies mostly with writer/director/editor Trank, whose previous film was the 2015 remake of “Fantastic Four,” another stagnant and messy flop. An epilogue in “Capone” says that most of Capone’s relatives changed their names after he died. After making the disastrous “Capone,” Trank might want to think about changing his name too.
Vertical Entertainment released “Capone” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on digital and VOD on May 12, 2020.