New on demand, Capone is approximately the jillionth movie about the notorious gangster best known as Scarface, but it’s not Yet Another Al Capone Movie. First, it stars Tom Hardy, who all but guarantees an eccentric performance. It’s also written and directed by Chronicle wunderkind Josh Trank, marking his return to prominence after 2015’s Fantastic Four, a commercial, critical and career catastrophe for the talented young filmmaker, who burned a bridge or three in the aftermath, and, depending on who you talk to, either quit or was let go from a number of high-profile projects, including Venom and Star Wars. So maybe Trank’s comeback, a pet project saddled with no studio meddling, will rekindle his once-promising career.
CAPONE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Alphonse Capone (Hardy) is not well. He’s 48, and many years into psychotic dementia stemming from chronic neurosyphilis. His eyes are inky black voids rimmed with red, all but dead beneath a sloping gorilla brow, an omnipresent cigar stub between his wide, waxy lips. It’s the last year of his life, reads a title card, stating what seems to be blatantly obvious, until we peer closer and wonder if he’s actually an animated corpse. His voice is the bleating croak of a bullfrog with a throatful of pond slime. He mutters indecipherably in English and Italian. He pisses himself. He hacks gobs of greasy mucus into a bucket. The radio interrupts some big-band numbers with an ad for a dramatization of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, a day of American infamy he engineered, and something stirs behind his obsidian pupils.
Fonz, as his family calls him, is out of prison due to his condition, and under FBI surveillance. He shuffles around his opulent Florida estate. Crews pack up his statues and other art to sell. His wife, Mae (Linda Cardellini), cuts his meat for him, and wakes up one night to the horrifying discovery that he has quite literally shit the bed. His doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) arrives the next day with diapers. The phone keeps ringing, and it’s his estranged bastard son calling from Cleveland; he hangs up every time Mae answers. Fonz’s business associate Johnny (Matt Dillon) comes to visit, and takes him fishing; when a gator snatches Fonz’s fish off the line, he grabs a rifle and shoots it. They sit in his home theater to watch The Wizard of Oz, and Fonz stands up to croak along to If I Were King of the Forest.
As if all this isn’t enough to illustrate how the man’s brain has gone kaflooey, Fonzo is seeing things. Things in his dimly lit hallways. Things across the pond. Things in his basement — like a big ballroom party in his honor, with Louis Armstrong singing Blueberry Hill. And other things, such as horrific visions of death and mutilation, which might just be lucid flashbacks to the terrible stuff he perpetrated. He can’t seem to differentiate nightmares from reality anymore. Oh, and he murmurs something about having hidden $10 million in a location he can’t recall, but nobody’s certain if that’s true, or just a figment generated by his cracked brain.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Imagine The Untouchables crossed with Away From Her crossed with Joker crossed with The Shining.
Performance Worth Watching: Depends if you prefer watching Hardy consume vast swaths of scenery, or MacLachlan inject weird little affectations into an otherwise colorless supporting character.
Memorable Dialogue: “Ngarhbhhh blrrgargah! Narr plah da (ptoo) merr glar dowwr!” — My best attempt at transcribing Fonz’s most profound and affecting dialogue, because the subtitles just say “[indistinct yelling]”
Sex and Skin: Matt Dillon grunts and thrusts with an unidentified lady friend.
Our Take: Tom Hardy is more putty than man now. Putty that’s been molded into human shape, strapped to a table and zapped to life with lightning. His performance bursts from beneath a gummy layer of old-man prosthetics, heavily spritzed for a yucky, clammy glaze. It’s part Brando as Don Corleone, part Karloff as Frankenstein’s monster, part rampaging non compos mentis Donald Duck. It’s certainly a performance like no other, almost sphynx-like in its tonal ambiguity, as I’m not certain if Hardy intends his acting to be comedic, dramatic, or horrifying, or perhaps all three. It certainly seems to be the peak of his ability to be larger than life, an elephant on stage with ants. To go any bigger would result in a galaxy-swallowing supernova.
Beyond Hardy’s aggressive bombardment, Capone doesn’t amount to much. Trank shows flashes of visual skill and clarity, and ambitiously stirs elements of gangster pics, character drama and atmospheric horror into a slightly unwieldy, albeit tonally consistent stew. The character’s surreal hallucinations allow the director to indulge in chattering tommy guns and creepy Kubrickian horror, in the movie’s most effective scenes.
But Hardy’s grotesque work chews up so much bandwidth, it renders the subtext a threadbare muddle. Is Trank asserting that a cruel, sadistic and selfish man deserves to suffer for his sins? Or is he courting our desire to see his suffering end, and therefore our empathy? Capone was surrounded by family who loved and supported him — Thanksgiving feasts bookend the narrative — but how do his siblings and offspring feel about the man’s awful deeds? Are they conflicted? Enablers? Supporters? We sense the movie reaching for something more, but profound rumination or implication is beyond its grasp. More than anything else, it’s an exercise in the grotesque.
Our Call: SKIP IT, unless the allure of a zagnut-bonkers Tom Hardy performance is too irresistible.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Original Post https://decider.com/2020/05/12/capone-on-demand-stream-it-or-skip-it/