I support Josh Trank.
At 27-years-old, Trank was the youngest director to have a film open at number one at the US box office, with 2012’s Chronicle, following such heights up with…utter disaster. His 2015 attempt at directing a gritty and dark reboot of the Fantastic Four now goes down as one of the worst comic-book movies ever made by most margins and pundits. Not that it was entirely his fault; the studio itself had little to no confidence in the project’s vision, using it simply as another ashcan copy to retain the franchise rights. Locked out of the editing bay and having had half of the movie reshot and retooled to meet studio demands, Trank was subject to vilification by movie news sites, lost out on a job directing a Star Wars spin-off movie, and was put in what is known as “director jail”, alongside Tony Kay and Richard Kelly.
Last year, however, it came to light that Trank had a new project in development; an Al Capone biopic starring Tom Hardy called Fonzo. Fonzo became Capone and now we have it thanks to being shuffled off as a COVID-hit straight to home video release.
All I can say is… what the fuck man?
Capone, despite having Tom Hardy in the lead and a wasted supporting cast featuring Linda Cardellini, Kyle MacLachlan, and Jack Lowden, is a bizarre and rather uninviting movie, whether intentional or not. Al Capone has been seen on film and television countless times, with the most notable portrayal being by Robert De Niro in The Untouchables, but this is a different Capone, one seen after his jail sentence for tax evasion ending in 1942 and suffering both from years of a criminal life and signs of neurosyphilis.
Okay, so we have a movie about an aging gangster at the end of his life, horrified by the ghosts of his past crimes and being scrutinised by his family and the government over rumours of hidden millions somewhere in his vast home. It sounds promising, but Trank doesn’t seem to know where to go with any of it, resorting to gangster movie clichés in dialogue and characterisations, and the delicate subject matter of mental illness and physical debilitation being exploited rather than handled with empathy and care.
You can see where Trank was going with all of this, using Capone as a means to tell a story of the suffering of the elderly and those with physical disabilities as well as a look at the effects of PTSD, but these ideas need a delicate touch which Trank doesn’t possess. The editing is erratic and confusing, the sound is uneven, and the camerawork is flat and uninspired. The frame rate seems to fluctuate from scene to scene, sometimes from shot to shot, and all of these technical inequalities are composed against comparatively uneven performances.
Matt Dillion is also here, giving a boring and generic performance that most first-year drama students would think is the best of their abilities. Linda Cardellini is tries her very best but can only do so much when the material gives her nothing.
What is the most striking and sharply uneven the whole film through is Tom Hardy. As I mentioned, this is an Al Capone we haven’t seen in media before, so you can’t really compare to other portrayals, but it doesn’t stop Hardy from both being too generic of an Italian-American and too unbelievable as a man suffering from immense physical and mental illness. His voice mixes Elmer Fudd and a chainsaw, or a jet ski motor stuck in sand, all gravel and muck but messy and over the top. Capone was only 48 when he died, but watching Hardy try to play a man with possible dementia slowly withering away is just thoroughly unrealistic. Maybe it’s just Hardy’s general demeanour or simply his voice that sounds alien out his lips, but none of it is watchable or engaging.
Capone tries so hard to be something of substance but it’s all so false and misguided. Yes, it is a confronting thing to have your lead character defecate in his sleep as seriously ill people have been known to do, but to then spend the rest of the movie making a plot point out of him wearing adult diapers and then to have a tense scene between government agents that is punctuated by Capone farting and having diarrhea simultaneously for what seems like an inappropriate fart joke, the filmmakers are undoing any goodwill made moments before. This is true of almost every scene in Capone. Something serious is brought up, like trauma, violence, or mental illness, but in the same scene someone will say something or Capone will do something that is so unintentionally comedic that everything is ruined.
It’s clear Josh Trank had high hopes with this film, but in the end Capone is less The Irishman and more Gotti. Avoid.
Director: Josh Trank
Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Kyle McLachlan
Writer: Josh Trank