Al Capone wanders out of the bushes, a diaper sagging around his midsection, a Tommy Gun at the ready. And not just any Tommy Gun, but a Tommy Gun made out of solid gold. A carrot clenched between his teeth like a cigar, Capone begins firing wildly, growling, screaming, drooling. He chomps down on that carrot like a deranged Bugs Bunny, and hikes up his soiled diaper.
This is Capone, Josh Trank‘s strange hybrid that wants to be both a gangster movie and also a horror pic. At the center of it all is Tom Hardy, who gets another excuse to use a strange voice. Hardy’s Capone is not the legendary gangster at the height of his Scarface days, but Capone nearing the end of his life, his mind ravaged by neurosyphilis. Here is a man who will not live out his final days with dignity.
Al Capone has been portrayed as a character in many pieces of entertainment, notably by Robert De Niro in The Untouchables and by Stephen Graham on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. But whenever Capone turns up in a movie or on a TV show, he’s seen in the prime of his life, and usually portrayed as a stereotypical gangster in flashy suits, lording over his criminal empire.
But we’ve never seen Al Capone like he’s portrayed in Capone. This is the Capone who has already served his time – for tax evasion – and is now whiling away the days in Florida with his wife (an underused Linda Cardellini) by his side. Capone won’t be able to enjoy a peaceful retirement, because his disease-riddled brain is slowly sending him off the deep end. Not only is he incontinent – yes, there are multiple, uncomfortably lengthy scenes where Al Capone shits himself in this movie, folks – he’s also prone to hallucinations.
The hallucinations are the meat of this movie, enabling Trank to stage horror movie-style sequences where Capone is haunted by ghosts from his past. All the terrible things this man has done are coming back to claim him, trapping him in his own personal hell. This makes most of the movie a one-man show, as Hardy staggers about, our guide through this netherworld. Occasionally he’s visited by others, including Kyle MacLachlan as his doctor, and Matt Dillon as an old gangster buddy. There’s also some nonsense about a huge amount of money Capone has stashed away in a spot his failing mind can no longer recall. Then there’s a subplot about one of the gangster’s illegitimate children trying to reconnect with him – a scenario Trank tries to wring for unearned pathos.
But all of that is scenery, and you get the sense that Trank isn’t interested in any of that. He just wants to send Al Capone through a carnival funhouse of horrors, and Hardy is amiable to it all. An actor who clearly thrives on vanishing into his roles, Hardy gets to go as big as he possibly can here, playing up Capone’s mania and confusion to the extreme. He shuffles, he stumbles, he mumbles, he drools. Buried under make-up, there are shots here where he doesn’t even look human, but instead, like some sort of ancient vampire crawled from its moldy tomb.
It’s all overly theatrical, and not at all concerned with being grounded in reality. And there’s something refreshing about seeing a gangster movie filtered through this sort of lens. Facts don’t matter here – it’s okay for Trank to stage weird sequences that have no basis in reality, because so much of the narrative is centered in Capone’s warped mind. Tidal waves, CGI alligators, characters who cut their own eyeballs out of their skulls – when was the last time you saw a movie about mobsters that had any of this stuff?
And yet, there are moments where Capone feels as if it might collapse under the weight of its ambition. It’s clearly a low-budget affair, and you can spot the seams at times – a quick flashback to Capone’s younger years has Hardy in what is quite possibly the worst fat suit ever created for the movies. There’s also an early moment involving Dillon’s character that makes absolutely zero sense in the context of a later scene, almost as if it’s something from an early draft that Trank forgot to cut out.
Capone works in spite of these road bumps, mainly because it’s easy to get wrapped-up in Hardy’s ghoulish performance, and the gothic horror of it all. As he staggers about his giant house in his robe and encounters the unquiet dead, Capone begins to feel like a riff on A Christmas Carol, with Scarface standing in for old Scrooge. But there’s no redemption here. No last-minute reprieve. Unlike Ebeneezer Scrooge, Al Capone can never escape his doom.
/Film Rating: 7 out of 10