Also known as ‘Scarface’, the Italian American gangster and corrupt businessman, Al Capone, ruled as a crime boss for many years before finally being put away for tax evasion in 1931. His notorious life has made for many interesting films, including Scarface (1932 film), which took us for quite a trip. One of the more contemporary films featuring the character was The Untouchables. It starred Kevin Costner as the prohibition agent Eliot Ness and Robert De Niro as Al Capone. It too gave us a look at the crime kingpin at his peak.

Josh Trank’s Capone does no such thing. Instead of the many films about the titular character before it, Capone examines the character after he has been in prison for almost ten years and is released at the age of 40 on humanitarian grounds, with his mind in decay due to the effects of neurosyphilis.

This concept, unfortunately, is the most interesting thing about Capone. This is a rudderless and unevenly-paced film that’s disappointing to watch. It should also be the end of Josh Trank’s career, who got off to a great start as the writer and director of the found-footage style superhero film Chronicle (2012). However, his Fantastic Four (2015), which for some reason was spelled “Fant 4 Stic” in the marketing campaign, was simply awful. Various sources suggested that Trank’s behaviour was destructive and he was a poor director.

Director Josh Trank’s Capone is a rudderless and unevenly-paced film that’s disappointing to watch

Capone cements the idea that Trank is a one-hit-wonder. The film is a weird and pointless journey. Watching it, you realise that Trank wants to put you in the tortured head of Capone, but that’s about it. The film is full of hallucinations and flashback sequences as the authorities, led by Agent Crawford (Jack Lowden), try to figure out where he stashed away 10 million dollars.

In Capone, you don’t know what’s real and what’s not, and ultimately stop caring. Certainly, the film makes you feel shock and disgust as you watch a middle-aged man grapple with mental health challenges, but that’s little to do with the filmmaking skills of Trank. Many of the strong emotions you feel are due to extreme violence or Al Capone urinating or passing stool all over the place. To make matters worse, the film doesn’t feel like an honest examination of mental health challenges by Trank. After the film carries on seriously for a while, it slowly starts to turn into a parody, which is a bizarre choice by the filmmaker, as it robs Capone of any authenticity.

Then, there’s Tom Hardy. If you recall some of the English actor’s most memorable performances, he’s wearing a mask, speaking little, and using his skillful facial expressions to convey strong emotions. Here, it seems like he was given an open goal by the director for Capone, and he scored a few for his team as well half-a-dozen own goals. His over-the-top performance is both fascinating and bizarre. From his odd voice to his excessive physicality, Hardy doesn’t hold back, but that’s not always a good thing in Capone. Under the wing of a different director, he could have delivered a more refined performance, and been part of a better film.

Rated R for strong/bloody violence, pervasive language and some sexuality

Published in Dawn, ICON, May 24th, 2020