When it was first announced that Tom Hardy would be playing Al Capone in a new movie, you could be forgiven for thinking it might be the US version of Legend – the actor’s 2015 film in which he played notorious Soho gangsters Reggie and Ronnie Kray. But Capone, directed by Josh Trank (Fantastic Four, Chronicle), is a bit different to your average mobster movie. In fact, it has little interest in the many felonies ordered and committed by America’s most famous criminal at all.
Instead, it follows Capone in the last year of his life, when he’s losing a battle with paresis – a form of dementia that’s brought on by the syphilis he contracted as a teenager. His eyes are bloodshot and oddly black, intensely piercing but with a hint of death behind them. He has three deep scars on the left side of his face and a growing red sore on the right. He no longer has control over his bladder or bowels – and his speech is slurred whether that trademark cigar is lodged in his mouth or not.
To be fair, it’s commendable that Trank has tried to tell a less familiar story here, when it would be easier to explore the blood and gore of Capone’s earlier life. But the film largely fails to deliver on its interesting premise. Hardy is, as you’d expect, brilliant as the crime lord, crafting an intimidating figure out of the crazed Italian American even when he’s pictured shitting his pants during an FBI interview. Elsewhere, Linda Cardellini (Dead To Me) is believable as his doting wife Mae, horrified at what is happening to her husband, but glued to his side throughout.
However, those performances aside, the film itself feels lost, delivered via fragments of plot that don’t lead anywhere – like the mysterious calls from Capone’s illegitimate son – and never get resolved. As the viewer, we lurch between reality and the bizarre visions that occur in the gangster’s decaying brain, but it’s often impossible to tell you’ve slipped into another world until you slip back.
One thing that plagues Capone in his final days is the mystery of where he’s hidden $10 million (something he was rumoured to have done in real life, but no money has ever been recovered). His dementia means he can’t remember where he’s put it, yet that doesn’t stop the feds from bugging his house and blackmailing his doctor (played by Kyle McLachlan) into trying to get it out of him – both of which subtly fuel his paranoia. The only clue Capone finds, deep in one of his surreal visions, is “dig where it’s wet”. That, in turn, leads to another delusion in which he finds himself diving into the lake in front of his Florida home, about to be reunited with his riches only to be stopped by an alligator.
For the most part, Capone is full of promise that isn’t quite met, which makes it more disappointing than if it was simply bad. Trank is right to hone in on a lesser-told part of the legendary figure’s story, but he could have paid more attention to the finer details. Instead, his quasi-biopic is a messy, half-baked epilogue which veers from the peculiar to the downright laughable. It’s a real shame, especially when you consider the stacked cast and promising subject matter that had made Capone one of 2020’s most anticipated projects.
- Director: Josh Trank
- Starring: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Noel Fisher
- Released: May 12 (VOD, US – UK release date TBC)