After a seemingly career-ending blunder with his disastrous Fantastic Four reboot, all eyes are on writer/director Josh Trank for his latest film Capone, to see if he can repair some of the damage done to his name – his quick rise and fall a more prominent story in the modern film industry than that of Al Capone himself.
In Capone he has chosen to tackle the final year of the legendary Chicago gangster’s life, as he fell into madness through dementia and paranoia about his gruesome past. Following the success of his 2012 feature debut Chronicle – a favourite of mine, Trank went from being toted as the next best thing to no one wanting to touch him with a ten foot pole. As Fan4stic failed on multiple levels, his comments about producers at Fox causing his film to fail before it was even released and Disney dropping him and his standalone Star Wars film like a bad habit, Trank soon became another seemingly blacklisted director of the film industry.
Yet for all the hardships and doubt placed on Capone simply because of Trank’s role as director, it’s actually a very unique telling of the notorious gangster’s life. Rather than another gun-toting, bloodbath chapter in the gangster’s prime, Trank focuses on a much darker and less glamorous time in Capone’s life; his mind completely warped from his time in prison and his health diminished due to him suffering from neurosyphilis, a failing bladder, hallucinations and even struggling to verbally communicate at times. Unfortunately it’s this metaphorical rise and fall that Trank is also personally familiar with, and as such, has created a convincing depiction of the notorious figure, fallen from his throne.
The more psychological horror approach to the story is particularly effective in generating sympathy for Capone. From dealing with the betrayal of a close ally to being taken advantage of by those around him, the much more personal element makes Capone seem far more human than we’re used to. There are times where he appears to regret decisions in his life, like betrayals of his own, and the relationship with his estranged son Tony (Mason Guccione) makes us empathise with him on a level we wouldn’t expect.
It’s impressive to see Trank create quite so much of that empathy through his family, as they show deep affection for him dying in front of their eyes. Regardless of how mean-spirited and selfish Capone can be, it’s plain to see that his wife (Linda Cardellini), son (Noel Fisher), and entire family still care for him. There is a frustration and tiredness that can be felt as they constantly pick him up off the floor and the looming thoughts of having to lead a new life after he is gone, but these are outweighed and overpowered by their love and respect for him. It’s even interesting how his family calls him Fonzo instead of Al – an attempt to rid the idea of his gangster lifestyle. Trank has surprised me by challenging viewers to look at Capone in a completely new light, especially during a scene involving his young niece.
The blurring of reality is very well done and creates engaging moments. Both the idea of Capone re-experiencing his dark past and his growing paranoia about people trying to get to his money make for some great “real or not?” moments. With even his close family trying to get information from him, strange radio messages that harken to the historic Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre that Capone concocted, and sudden shifts in character’s motivations and dialogue, there’s an unsureness that catches you off-guard and creates tension out of nowhere; Simple scenes where Capone is having a conversation or a casual check-up with his doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) which suddenly take a dark turn and pull viewers in.
While Capone has strength in showing a different side to the legendary gangster, it isn’t without weakness that unfortunately stems from that same approach. While the film attempts to maintain its dark and serious tone, Trank occasionally lets things slip into goofy territory which drags down a lot of the scenes. I found myself disappointed when scenes that really connected with me were followed by something tonally way off and completely took me out of the moment. Even the outbursts of Hardy’s admirable, but strange depiction of Capone somewhat kill the vibe and take things in an unnecessary direction. There’s a more artistic route that Trank takes in this story that can feel aimless at times and can come across quite boring – except for when Capone finds his trusty golden Tommy Gun. That scene rules.
While Trank doesn’t soar to new heights or find total redemption with Capone, he has certainly begun to repair a lot of the damage done to his name, taking a unique, dark and humanising look at one of America’s most infamous gangsters.