Capone is the third feature embarked upon by writer, director and editor Josh Trank (Chronicle, Fantastic Four), who had a dispute with the producers of Fantastic Four (2015) when they rejected his cut version of the film, which ultimately resulted in Josh Trank being disappointed by the final result, due to the reshoots he reluctantly agreed upon completing, causing poor review and labeling the film as one of the worst of 2015. Had Josh Trank been given final cut, who knows what the outcome would have been.
Capone centers around the 47-year old Alphonse “Al” Capone being released from prison and forced into exile in Florida on his mansion while he suffers from dementia as he’s constantly haunted by his dark past through mental hallucinations, in a ghoulish performance by Tom Hardy portraying the notorious Chicago gangster. “We don’t say that name around here.” Mae Capone says, played by Linda Cardellini (Green Book), in response to Gino (Gino Cafarelli, The Irishman) one of Capone’s life-long henchman, when he refers to Capone as “Al”, his nickname from his notorious gangster days. Around the mansion, everyone refers to Capone as Fonzo, a derivative of Alphonse.
The opening scene is a play on suspense where we see a disheveled, scar-faced Capone step slowly through dark hallways carrying a fire iron with an intense expression, prepared to kill any moving thing in sight. It ends up being a gag, when a little girl jumps out of the closet in a game of hide and seek. Other children swarm about, and Capone growls after them in a chase. The introduction is elongated and drawn-out, much like Capone’s character traits. We learn about the relationship he has with his son Junior (Noel Fisher) and his family for several minutes into the first act, in addition to witnessing Capone urinate his pants amid a conversation. “Don’t tell your mama.” He says in Italian. After what felt like half an hour, the title card, Capone, appears across the screen, reminding us that the movie is only beginning. This tactic typically works when the opening sequence of a film is stimulating. In this case, it would have been sufficient to put the title over black, prior to the first shot, or have no title at all and maybe leave it for the ending.
The opening credits roll, ever-so-slowly, leaving title credits to appear on-screen one second too long, while showing us well-composed shots around the mansion and its ever-present statues. The very fact that this film was also edited by its director sounds a bell. It’s an unorthodox approach to have the film’s writer/director also edit the picture. It has happened several times before with other veteran directors Robert Rodriguez and the Coen Brothers. Most directors who edit their own films do so on experimental projects, not big budget features. Joel and Ethan Coen edit their pictures underneath the pseudonym “Roderick Jaynes”. Perhaps, because it calls too much attention to itself in revealing the truth to the audience, thus opening a door for further critique. The collaboration between a director and an editor allows for more creative decisions to be made that otherwise wouldn’t be discovered. After having spent so much time with the film in the first two phases of production as a writer and director, editors are adroit in making the director feel at ease. An editor is supposed to be a separate storyteller in the collaborative medium of filmmaking. They say the film is made three times: when it’s written, when it’s directed, and when it’s edited. In this case, we have an auteur who did all three, resulting in one vision. Editors will sometimes take things out or leave things in because they are aware that somewhere down the line in the movie’s running time, maybe an hour into the second act, when something else happens, they’ll know the audience won’t feel the same because they didn’t see a certain moment, or saw too much, in the first act. It’s always invaluable to have an editor who has a good eye, who’s separate from the director, and is able to pick up on things the director otherwise wouldn’t.
Tom Hardy’s performance is nothing short of excellence. He portrays the character on-screen, camera-front, as authentic as humanly possible. The way Capone snaps at the loud sounds and noises, shouting obscenities in Italian while inadvertently bumping into furniture is remarkable. It’s clear that he immersed himself in the character and enlivened this broken down mentally disturbed man in the final stage of his life. His performance was filled with Italian dialogue in addition to genuine mumbling and sometimes just sheer silence. Every time Capone goes to speak, we’re drawn forward, looking for clues in witnessing what he’s going to utter next. Al Capone for Tom Hardy is what Tony Montana was for Al Pacino and what Vito Corleone was for Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro. The film has a chaotic sequence in the third act in a bombardment of carnage outside of the mansion, reminiscent of Tony Montana’s shooting spree in Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983).
The musical score is ethereal. With mostly subtle background symphonic sounds and sometimes profound chords striking into our psyches, composed powerfully by El-P.
The pacing of the film is a slow-burn of drags like the cigar’s in Capone’s mouth that later turn into carrots due to his health after suffering a stroke. In an interesting dreamlike hallucination of a flashback where Capone is wearing his same silk robe, but the setting is a night gala where he stands on-stage and walks about the bash in a haunting memory of his past. It’s a phenomenal sight to see, when he witnesses a glimpse of the towering and intimidating younger version of himself through the mirror in the bathroom. He is then led downstairs to the basement, where he views a young Gino relentlessly stab a man tied to a chair with bloody violence so extreme that it makes the torture scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs look like a PG rating. The overall sequence is an excellent piece of directing that executed perfectly and is probably the highlight of the film. Instead of showing us a younger version of Capone through Tom Hardy, we only catch a glimpse of him through the bathroom mirror, leaving the rest to our imagination, of what it really looked like.
The traumatic episodes that occur to Capone keep arising in a redundant manner. Capone urinates himself, excretes in his bed, excretes at the dinner table. Mostly out of his control, except for in an intense scene where he’s harassed in an interrogation by the FBI, alongside his Attorney (Neal Brennan, The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard) Capone excretes his pants, perhaps intentionally, as his response to the Agents. The overall objective of the film is to discover where the supposed $10 million in cash is hidden. Due to his dementia and memory loss, Capone has absolutely no idea where he stored the money. Or does he. In the dream, he’s told to check where it’s wet, perhaps, suggesting that it’s buried under water, somewhere in a river or a pond. The overall objective of the story was to figure out where the $10 million is stashed. Due to his dementia and memory loss, he has no idea where it is. Or does he. In his hallucinations, he’s told to check where it’s wet, suggesting a pond or a river. We learn that the money was never found. One questions the significance of this particular story being told, other than displaying the mere facts of what happens to a ruthless gangster of days past as he suffers from dementia.