A crazed scatological portrait of a gangster’s endgame
Not so much a beguiling biopic as it is a whirligig of go-for-broke eccentricities, Capone is about as revealing of the storied 1920s Chicago gangster as a cutscene from a bargain-bin Scarface video game. But it’s as looney as a flapper on a coke binge. And, in its own fractured way, Capone is maybe one of the boldest misfires of the year. Come for the seedy underworld thug life, stay for the febrile bowel movements and reptile hallucinations.
CAPONE ★★ (2/5 stars)
Directed by: Josh Trank
Written by: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon
Running time: 104 min
Credit black sheep director Josh Trank, who went from Hollywood wünderkind for 2012’s clever Chronicle to blacklisted flash-in-the-pan for 2015’s clunky Fantastic Four. Lord knows how he pulled together the financing for this oddball passion project, which punctures its meandering not-a-plot with graphic jolts of unnerving violence. Whether it’s blood, puke, piss, or crap, there’s always something pouring out.
If Capone maintains any interest, it’s almost entirely because of Tom Hardy’s committed performance as the titular criminal. Sure, he sports some kind of incredulous salt-and-pepper receding hairline and a pallid, pasty death mask with the obligatory signature cicatrix on his left cheek. But the smoldering Brit’s congenital intensity makes every screen appearance worth watching, even if his catholic tastes transcend quality control. He’s been in dogs, he’s been in gems. But his rogue’s gallery of character roles is always compelling to watch. And this latest addition to his eclectic filmography is a suitably odd duck.
In one of Trank’s best self-owns, Capone literally shits the bed. And in a way, this feature-length backfire is a study in that kind of failure. What good are the keys to the kingdom if you end up an enfeebled, deranged man who doesn’t live to his 50th birthday? There’s no point in success if the paranoiac price is a nagging delusion that everyone’s out to gut you and steal your booty.
What, you actually want to learn something about the murderous Alphonse Gabriel Capone, Prohibition’s most notorious bootlegger who ran the Chicago Outfit and engineered the St. Valentine’s Day massacre? The precocious-ferocious twentysomething with an illicit empire that grossed $100 million annually? The racketeer who cultivated a public rep as a charitable modern-day Robin Hood before he went to prison for tax evasion? Go read the Wikipedia page.
Trank cherry-picks from Fonzo’s final years, depicting his post-Alcatraz exile on a sprawling waterfront compound in Palm Island, Florida. The filmmaker is going for the postscript profile, the kind of cinematic approach that follows in the arthouse heels of austere works like Alexander Sokurov’s Hitler study Moloch and Gus Van Sant’s Kurt Cobain rumination Last Days. Those worthy-yet-wearying pictures had their own issues, but Capone is in its own category of mismanaged material.
So we have a syphilitic Capone roaming his mansion and wrestling with the demons of his past. He’s haunted by some dapper pre-teen newsie dripping with blood and holding a copper-colored balloon. He urinates through his nice three-piece suit. “Where’d that come from?” he says, then vomits into a nearby wastebasket. He chomps his ubiquitous cigar while barking hostile declarations in Italiano, with a thick gabbagool accent. “Assassino! Assassino!” he yells. For some reason, he sounds like Froggy from The Little Rascals. And “Nessun Dorma” is constantly playing on the radio.
He imagines that he’s at a New Year’s party with Louis Armstrong delivering a creepy a cappella version of “Blueberry Hill.” Matt Dillon pops up as a capo from the past, who reminisces with Capone about the old days and takes him fishing. When an alligator rips a big catch off his fishing line, Fonzo pulls out a shotgun and plugs the swamp monster. Capone confides that he hid $10 million but can’t remember where. Then he has a sing-along with the Cowardly Lion.
Capone’s doctor (Kyle MacLachlan, in a bowtie and spectacles) is worried that he’s going to have another stroke. Money is getting tight, so they have to sell off some of his statues. “Don’t touch my Lady Atlas!” Fonzo screams at Rodrigo the gardener. He has the stroke anyway.
Now Capone, eyes chronically bloodshot, is reduced to even more drooling gibberish, swapping out his stogies for carrots and drawing Crayola pictures of money bags and sharting in front of the FBI. His illegitimate son Tony keeps calling collect from Cleveland. Dillon comes back and carves out his eyeballs.
Where is all of this going? Nowhere fast. But that’s okay, since the climactic scene involves Fonzo strafing his staff with a gold-plated Tommy Gun while wadding around in a red silk pajama top and soiled diapers. As a profile in crazed impotence, Capone works on so many levels.