When you think of notorious gangster, Al Capone, what comes to mind? Chicago? Prohibition? Alcatraz? Ruthlessness? Gruesomeness? Valentines Day? Control? All of those would be correct associations in my, and probably any historian’s, book. However, those are just some of the many pillars holding up the larger-than-life story of Capone we all know today. Do you ever find yourself wondering what it was like behind the curtains?
Life isn’t all stylized mob stories, as several directors and actors have expressed anecdotes of the Capone saga countless times in multiple perspectives. But no story told so far is quite as bizarre, unique and unsettling as the new film Capone by director and writer Josh Trank. Trank makes a return here after a few previous films of his (i.e. Fan4stic) fell short.
This film delves into the final year of Al Capone’s (Tom Hardy) life, an era of his time on Earth that was not nearly as flashy, exciting or littered with big time news stories. Rather, it’s filled with intense complications from neurosyphilis. As his body and mind begin to crumble, pieces of Capone’s psyche are peeled away, revealing his destructive past and some of his greatest regrets. It’s a unique experience that tells the famed gangster’s life story while existing strictly within the end times of his life.
Capone is a vicious spiral that begs the viewer to question the reality of what we are experiencing. Are we seeing what everyone else sees and hears, or just what’s inside Capone’s mind? The tone and overall effect of this artistic decision-making creates a similar feeling that I had while watching Joker. Though one story is fiction and this is BASED in fact, the viewer is still left with the same feelings of confliction as to whether or not we should feel empathy for a monster?
Tom Hardy completely becomes Capone here, offering a jarring yet complete performance that proves there are true actors still among us. I honestly felt I was experiencing Capone in his natural habitat, though during this time, his natural habitat is filled with suspicion, uncertainty, frailty and (unexpectedly) a lot more feces than I was ready for. You’ll understand if you watch.
The film begins by setting the scene with a superimposed backstory. Rather than dive into his early years, Capone equips the reader with essential information for his mind and body’s downfall. After being locked up for years for “tax evasion” (hmmmmm, makes you think) Capone was released to live out the rest of his life at his mansion in Miami, Florida with his family. Al’s declining health deemed him a non-threat, but that doesn’t mean the feds weren’t still watching him; A catalyst for his paranoia to worsen.
The disease of syphilis today can be treated before it reaches this appalling and dehumanizing “neuro” stage. If left untreated, however, the symptoms and brutal secondary effects will eat your mind and body alive, both figuratively and literally. Kind of a bummer if you believe you’ve stowed away $10 million and can’t remember where, which is exactly what Capone believes he did. This acts as the film’s dramatic crux, where the audience sees who truly cares for Capone, and who only cares about the possible promise of eventual riches. Did anyone really care, or is everyone around him a snake?
This is without a doubt an unexpected yet poignant look into one of- if not the– most profound gangsters in Americanhistory. If you’re looking for a classic gangster biopic, this might not be checking all of the boxes, but I believe Capone finds a way to hit the classic tropes in its own way. Without spoiling too much, I believe Trank’s unique perspective taught me more about Capone and what makes him tick than any previous iteration of the man.
One element of Capone that I thought was so telling, and very meta, was the families attempt to only address Capone as “Fonze” late in his life, which is short for his real name. His wife, Mae (Linda Cardellini), drives this home when she expresses that they do not call her husband “Al” in “this house,” acknowledging and actively separating the man/character from his vicious past. This film asks for the viewer to put their preconceived notions to the side and view this man and his mind in its presently tormented state.
Capone, like Joker, requires multiple watches to fully catch on to everything and to discern between reality and “Fonze’s” crippled mind. This might polarize, but what’s great about being in a global pandemic is our ability to sit at home to watch and re-watch with VOD. Held up by great performances, specifically from Cardellini and (mainly) Hardy, you’re able to buy into the characters and feel the empathy that was intended to be felt, should you choose to.
Verdict 3 out of 5 Stars
I personally thought Capone was a surprisingly engaging drama, evoking emotions that I didn’t expect to feel for a killer like Capone. You can’t help but let the deeply human aspect of his situation project itself onto your life and your loved ones. However, I feel that audiences will be looking for something much different from a Capone film going into it, likely because our expectations of gangster media have conditioned us to envision this man in a certain way. And boy do we get a VERY different Al Capone