Capone sees Josh Trank take on the last year of Al Capone’s life through the lens of various increasingly insane hallucinations in a bonkers, ineffective film.
Movie makeup can have a transformative effect. When done well, makeup can make a character feel more persuasive and augment an actor’s performance. When done poorly, it can cause a near uncanny valley effect and distract from the action on screen. Capone is one of the more extreme examples of the downside in recent memory. Here, Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road) is caked in so much absurd makeup that it renders what is already an outsized performance even more ludicrous. His skin appears to have roughly the melanin of a Twilight vampire. His eyes are so bloodshot that it is difficult to imagine how Capone would actually be able to see. He takes on the physiognomy of an extra on The Walking Dead, only less credible.
The film’s extremism in makeup reflects how it handles nearly everything else. Nothing about this movie is subtle or nuanced. Director Josh Trank (Fant4stic) appears to confuse extreme with effective. Capone tells the story of the last year of Al Capone’s life as he withers away in a tacky nuevo riche palatial estate in Florida. He is afflicted with neurosyphilis and spends his days chomping on a cigar and disappearing beneath a blanket of mental infirmity. The practical effect of the plotting is that Tom Hardy spends much of the film sitting and staring out over the Florida swamps with little to do until the next hallucination sequence, which each plays out like a film student’s love letter to the end of the movie mother!.
But keep in mind, this is the sort of movie where Al Capone shits himself – with fart noises apparently ripped from a 90s C-list kids movie – not once, but twice. Tom Hardy is an actor who has never been afraid to go BIG in his performances and in Josh Trank he has found quite the enabler. Hardy’s Capone moves with the shamble of a George Romero zombie. Already prone to allowing grunts and grumbles to subsume his dialogue, Hardy’s annunciation here is so layered in shtick that it becomes almost impossible to parse. I will admit that I had to turn on the closed captioning – something I never do – just to understand much of what he was mumbling.
A big part of the appeal of Tom Hardy is his immense natural charm. Take his work in Inception – he gives off effortless movie star charisma and makes Nolan’s oft-overwrought dialogue feel lively and important. Even something like Venom sees Hardy giving a fantastically weird and interesting performance that seems to exist in an entirely different movie from the rest of the dumpster fire around him. And yet, Hardy has numerous performances that see his hulking characters rendered near mute by an intentional failure of eloquence. Sometimes it effectively conveys a character’s emotional damage like in the wonderful MMA film Warrior, and sometimes it requires Christopher Nolan to re-edit the audio to his movie between preview and release because audiences simply cannot understand his words like in The Dark Knight Rises.
But even in those performances, Hardy had his physicality to fall back on. Hardy is built like a pro wrestler, all bulk muscle and physical imposition. Here, Josh Trank has allowed Hardy’s worst impulses to reach their extreme while muting his screen presence. A rotund Tom Hardy in a bathrobe and a diaper simply cannot hold the screen with an occasional round of grunts.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the movie is that it feels inconsequential. Dream sequences are often most effective when they reflect the evolving psyche of a character we have already come to know. Here, they appear to be playing off the assumed audience knowledge of Al Capone. The effect did not deepen my understanding of Al Capone – it left me reminiscing about Boardwalk Empire’s Stephen Graham and all the great many other actors who have given a more interesting take on the character.
And yet… there is something so ludicrous here that I cannot help but wonder if this thing is headed for cult classic status. The dream sequences are so absurd: Hardy crawls through small mountains of bodies before cutting through orgiastic flapper parties only to watch a brutal mob torture scene in slow motion. Capone’s climax sees Hardy in a robe and a diaper prowling around his estate with a gold plated machine gun looking for vengeance for imagined slights. I was so removed from any sort of dramatic tension in the film that I found the sequence, apparently the emotional climax, rendered hilarious.
Looking back, there is much about this movie that would be unintentionally hilarious after a few drinks. Hardy’s grumbles seem like a Saturday Night Live impression of his Bane character. When doing therapeutic artwork, Capone draws child-like depictions of cartoon money bags with giant $ symbols on them. A doctor suggests that Capone’s iconic cigar be replaced by a carrot – the great gangster reconstituted as Bugs Bunny. This is a very bad movie, but I feel the need to admit that I secretly enjoyed it…
Capone is now available to watch on Digital and on Demand.
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