Directed by: Josh Trank
Written by: Josh Trank
Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon and Kyle MacLaclan
One of the major mistakes filmmakers can succumb to when making a biopic is to use broad strokes on larger than life characters in pursuit of trying to fit too much of their subject’s life into a standard feature film. The result is often counter-productive. Genuine characterisation suffers at the hands of spectacle. It took Martin Scorsese three and a half hours to achieve both with The Irishman (2019). Watch Danny de Vito’s Hoffa (1992) or Brian Helgeland’s Legend (2015), both as a case in point of throwaway detail in lieu of proper characterisation. Usually a condensed time frame in the subject's life allows their character to breathe. A skilled filmmaker can show you the essence of a character without having to tell you the whole story.
This is what Josh Trank tries to do with his latest film, Capone, chronicling the final year of the life of arguably history’s most notorious gangster. Al Capone, who died in 1947, has been portrayed either directly or indirectly in multiple films. Indirectly, in Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932), most likely because he was still alive at the time. 1932 was the year Capone was imprisoned for his final stretch. Capone was said to detest the nickname, one he attained in a vicious barfight. Directly, Capone was perhaps most famously portrayed by Robert de Niro in Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables (1987).
However, Trank’s film, in which Tom Hardy plays Capone, affectionately known as Fonz to his friends and relatives, will surely go down as his least flattering depiction. In this film, Capone is done building his empire. He is living out his final days in a lavish mansion in south Florida. The FBI are still looking for ways to take his riches. There is a question of a million dollars that he has stashed somewhere. Capone does not know where it is. He is suffering from late stage neurosyphilis which is eroding his brain causing dementia. He is pissing and shitting himself in between fever dreams which bring ghosts of the past back to haunt him.
Capone is portrayed by Hardy with his usual zeal. Hardy’s penchant for prosthetics can be dated back to his portrayal of Star Trek villain Shinzon in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). Transformative roles oftentimes lack subtly. However, subtly has rarely been Hardy’s goal. He is quite often his best as an animal on screen. Bronson (2008), Warrior (2011) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), to name a few examples. In Capone, Hardy portrays a once fierce and dominant animal, that is now old and maimed and ready to be put out of its misery.
Capone is written, directed and edited by Josh Trank. He is a director trying to get his career back on track after Fantastic Four (2015) was one of the biggest flops of the 2010s. Trank blamed the film’s fate on his lack of creative control. He has no excuses here. For all it’s faults, which mostly can be attributed to clarity of purpose, Trank has made a film that is of a singular vision, and that in itself is commendable.