Tom Hardy's turn as notorious gangster Al Capone was already highly anticipated, both for those who genuinely wanted to see him in the role and also for those who were expecting Capone to be a car crash of epic proportions. The movie, initially titled Fonzo, was written and directed by Josh Trank of Fantastic Four notoriety.
Meant to be his Citizen Kane, Capone features a formidable cast including Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan, and Jack Lowden amongst others. Set in the final year of Capone's life, as he slowly succumbs to late-stage Syphilis, Capone has arrived on Netflix and brought Tom Hardy's grunts into our living rooms.
Surrounded by as strong a supporting cast, Hardy, an actor known for his committed and electric performances, feels overblown. His dedication to Capone's deterioration and erratic behaviour is reminiscent of his lobster-tank dive in Venom taken to a whole new extreme.
It isn't a poor performance by any means. It's a deeply energetic one, but beneath the bluster of a man losing his grip on his mind, his body, and his reality, there's not enough nuance to make us care.
Instead, we're tortured alongside Fonse (they don't call him Al) as he suffers stroke after stroke, held prisoner to his memories of the extreme violence with which he lived his life. There is no break for Fonse, and there is no break for us, either.
Cardellini gives her all as the equally tortured wife Mae Capone, but as we get no insight into her internal life, it's hard even to empathise with her beyond the obvious discomfort at having to take care of someone whose health is failing.
When Mae is advised to have some men around for her own protection, in case Fonse gets violent, she says she isn't scared of him. The problem with Capone as a film is that we aren't either.
We should be, based solely on Al Capone's reputation. But the movie fails to convey any sense of him as a dangerous man — even with what we know of him, his ruthlessness as a mob boss, all we can see of him now is a frail and sickly old man.
Fonse's delusions bleed into his waking life, but still, it's hard to feel bad for him, nor to fear the ramifications of what an unpredictable Capone could do. Better depictions of what dementia does to the mind can be found in Falling with Lance Henriksen's explosive performance, or The Father with Anthony Hopkins' nuanced one.
Hardy tries to show the peaks and troughs of Fonse's final year but is hampered by a poor story. Yes, it is based on reality, but Trank doesn't make enough of either the missing 10 million or the 'guilt' Fonse is feeling to make us feel invested, afraid of, or even excited by, what could happen next.
The film is held together by the sheer will-power of its actors, but a poor script can't even be saved by Hardy's unwavering devotion to it (and yes, all of his grunting, too). In fact, the haphazardness of the movie makes you feel like you're suffering inside one of Capone's own nightmares, only there is no waking up. Unless y'know, you turn it off.
And yet somehow it isn't bad, exactly. It is difficult and unrelenting, but not a compelling or insightful look into what happens to a man with no internal moral compass when his brain begins to go. For that, we'd direct you to Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts (also about the ramifications of one's past and syphilis, but far better written).
What Capone is trying to do or say remains a mystery; there is no treasure hunt for the supposed 10 million dollars Fonse hid away, nor is there any death bed moral revelation, nor a judgment on whether Capone was a good or a bad guy in the end (ANSWER: He was bad).
Where The Irishman (also about morally corrupt gangsters in their final years) left us with an ending that could be both analysed and deeply-felt, Capone simply ends, much like waking up from a bizarre but ultimately meaningless dream, the kind your partner gets bored of when you tell it to them no matter how vivid it was for you.
Capone is now available to watch on Netflix
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