Written by: Patrick Howard | May 12th, 2020
Capone (Josh Trank, 2020) 1½ out of 4 stars.
Tom Hardy (Venom), now another recognized chameleon of the Hollywood thespians, takes a hefty swing at portraying one of America’s most ruthless gangsters, Al Capone. In Josh Trank’s Capone, the once feared crime kingpin of Chicago is now living the last year of his life on his lavish estate in Florida. After serving 10 years in prison for tax evasion, contracting neurosyphilis, and showing signs of severe dementia, the gangster is no longer deemed a danger to society by the United States government. As a seemingly free man in the swamps of the sunshine state, Al Capone is unable to escape the prying eyes of U.S. government agents and the haunting and violent moments from his past that are ready to greet him around behind every door.
When Capone is not being held up on the shoulders of Tom Hardy’s impressive transformation as the legendary Scarface, it’s a repetitious and confusing mess. Josh Trank chooses to focus on the last year of Al Capone’s life, with glimpses of the gangster in his prime. This choice on paper is great. For a while now, the biopic genre has met decades of tired and easily recognizable clichés: to show an audience a subject’s entire life, from birth to death. It’s only been in the past five or six years that we’ve seen filmmakers take a maverick approach to a biopic story and only focus on one key period in the subject’s life. And guess what? It works. A film like Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead was bold and innovative as it explored the exciting past of jazz musician Miles Davis while keeping the primary plot centered on a heist to recover stolen session tapes.
Trank’s Capone tries to do the same thing. We follow Capone as he slowly comes to terms with his deteriorating mental state, which chaotically triggers a traumatic moment from his past. To beef up the intrigue, Trank has Capone question if the surroundings and people around him are even real. All of these elements have great potential to make for a fantastic character study. Sadly, the overall tone, the plot points that transpire, and crucial character relationships are all far too reserved to generate any emotional impact.
Any character study worth its salt doesn’t horde all of its available contextual information, visual or not, for just one character. Yes, this kind of story will only benefit one character at the end but that doesn’t mean completely disregarding the attempt to develop relationships the protagonist may have with their supporting cast. Capone is chock-full of great actors with no dramatic meat to chew on. Most times characters will introduce themselves as though we automatically know who they are and how they’re important to Capone. There are interesting story beats in the conversations Hardy holds with Linda Cardellini (Green Book) and Matt Dillon (Head Full of Honey), but there’s no attempt on Trank’s part to make us care.
The last year of Al Capone’s life is interesting but not interesting enough to warrant a two hour movie. The moments the movie comes to life are when Capone is recalling his involvement in the organized crime of Prohibition-era Chicago, with liquor smuggling, secret speakeasies, and Tommy machine guns spraying bullets at rival gangs and cops. This is the exciting stuff we want to see in a grandiose Al Capone biopic. It’s probably not as accurate as Capone, but if you want an entertaining movie with Al Capone, watch Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables.
[Capone is out now on all major VOD platforms, distributed by Vertical Entertainment.]