It wasn’t long ago when the career of up-and-coming filmmaker Josh Trank seemed destined for nothing but greatness. His directorial feature Chronicle put a fresh spin on the dying “found footage” genre, helped launch the careers of stars Dane Dehaan and Michael B. Jordan and made over 10 times its budget, becoming one of the most profitable films of 2012. Things immediately went downhill in 2015 when his attempted relaunch of the classic superhero team, the Fantastic Four, known as Fant4stic from its promotional campaign, suffered from endless behind-the-scenes drama with Trank publicly disowning the final product via Twitter and later being let go from an upcoming Star Wars film. Trank found himself essentially blacklisted from the industry with no indication he would ever work again. Fast forward to 2020 and we have Trank’s comeback film, Capone; a unique, uncompromising — don’t call it a biopic — portrayal of the final year in the life of notorious gangster Al Capone.
After syphilis has begun to rot away at his brain, Al Capone (Tom Hardy), referred to as “Fonse” as his wife (Linda Cardellini) wants nothing to do with the Capone name, spends his post-prison days wandering around his Florida mansion in disarray. Grunting and squawking at his family, gardeners and friends while constantly smoking the fattest cigars you’ve seen this side of Looney Tunes, Fonse is plagued by the violent nightmares of his past. His grasp on reality is crumbling around him more with each day.
Serving as editor, writer and director, Josh Trank sets out to make what is an undeniably singular vision of a man at the lowest point of his life both mentally and psychically; literally and metaphorically. Trank explores what it’s like to come to the end of a life lived with guilt and regret. While it’s easy to say this is akin to the final act of The Irishman through a Lynchian, even Coen Bros. lens, Trank forges his own madcap auteur sensibility with often profound results.
Tom Hardy gives maybe his showiest performance as the ailing Capone, but it might also be his most fearless. Any actor taking on a role in which their character defecates on-screen not once, but twice demands some serious respect, but Hardy doesn’t coast on the scenery-chewing or outstanding make-up work. Hardy brings a nuanced melancholy to the deteriorating Capone. Whether its the lingering sadness that lurks behind his eyes or slight moments of life he shows when he’s visited by his friend, Johnny (Matt Dillon) or sings along with the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, Hardy always manages to find the soul of the character.
It’s not hard to see how this is Trank’s most personal film to date. He, along with Hardy, finds an emotional honesty in the despair of Capone. Capone‘s engrossing portrayal of guilt further highlights the strong correlation between Hardy’s Fonse and Trank’s own career. The misery Fonse wallows in has a genuine, even profound, sense of place. Its through the deep isolation and hysteria that Trank finds emotional ground on which Capone firmly stands on.
Trank’s craft has matured significantly over the years and the non-mainstream approach this film takes is worthy of praise alone. Smartly, Trank has employed Mulholland Drive DP Peter Deming to bring his surrealist visual stylings to good use. The paranoid atmosphere surrounding the titular character is almost too palpable for comfort.
Josh Trank’s Capone certainly does not always work. Many will sure find it meandering and uneventful. It features a vast ensemble cast that is largely underutilized, and the side bits involving Capone’s rumored money stash and a potential illegitimate son don’t reach the compelling highs of Capone’s tortured soul. This film is campy, a bit trashy, even slightly tasteless; but it’s also quite profound. This is the work of a unique, eccentric auteur in the making.