Capone (2020)

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I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get used to this ‘new films from the sofa’ way of life. Sure, nothing beats the atmosphere of a pitch black cinema with the perfect sound, but I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how smooth this VOD era transition has been so far. With my local theatre’s latest being no activity before July 1st,  it looks like I’ll be watching under the duvet for a while longer. But hey, if they keep releasing, I’ll keep reviewing!

This weekend’s viewing experience comes in the form of Capone, yet another cinematic take on the legend of infamous American gangster Al Capone (played by Tom Hardy), but one that takes a direction you probably won’t have seen before. Set in the the mid 1940s, the film tells the story of the final year of Capone’s life, released from prison, retreated to Florida, and rapidly falling victim to the mind rotting effects of longterm neurosyphilis.

By all means, this is a film that sets out to strip away all of the previous images and conceptions the viewer might have had of the feared and revered Al Capone. An absolute shell of a man, the narrative is much more an exploration of failing mental capacity and illness than it is any kind of revelatory biopic. In this broad sense, the film seems an interesting and intriguing prospect, but the problem for me is that it fails to execute in a number of key areas.

In many ways, Capone feels more like a series of tableaux than a feature narrative, of which only about three or four are really vital. There is a strong sense of all the pieces of the puzzle being there, but not being quite put into place. Some will argue, of course, that the clumsiness of the execution is to emphasise the deterioration of the protagonist’s mind, and whilst there may be a hint of that, a lot of it does just feel like sloppy filmmaking. There are a couple of great devices and moments that really stand out, but it does feel like you can see the seams being knitted together in order for the narrative to get from one of those ‘better’ moments to the next.

There are bursts of really striking imagery at points in the film. In his declining health Capone is given the time to reckon with both his past crimes and his relationships with his family, all the with fuzzy layer of mental impediment to cloud his judgements and recollections. In-between those striking moments, though, there is a tendency to dwell on things for a little too long until they verge on lacklustre. Another symptom perhaps of the filmmaker’s desire to replicate the monotony and slowing down of Al Capone’s functions, but just not executed in an elegant enough way.

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From Bane to Mad Max to his performance as Al Capone, Tom Hardy seems to be making a career out of playing near unintelligible characters. His take on the infamous gangster is 100% committed, but not 100% easy or enjoyable to watch. This might be the desired effect, but you have to find the right balance between filmmaking vision, and what an audience is going to find compelling. Hardy is good at what he does, but I can only take so much mumbling, bumbling and staring off into the middle distance before my own mind starts to wander.

The films sits in direct opposition to the genre examples that seek to glamourise such a life and legend. Visceral in its depictions of incontinence in particular, there is nothing glamorous about this version of Al Capone whatsoever, and Hardy isn’t scared to look a mess even if he is covered in appearance changing prosthetics. And as for those prosthetics, I personally found them to be just over the line when it came to suspension of disbelief. There is something very ‘plasticy’ about how Hardy looks in this movie, with the extra bafflement of the fact that given all of this special effects work, he doesn’t really look like an ageing Capone at all.

Supporting players including the likes of Matt Dillon, Linda Cardellini, Al Sapienza, Kyle MacLachlan and Jack Lowden all weave in and out of the narrative to good effect, but this is certainly a prime example of a film that lives or dies on its central performance.

Overall, I think it’s clear to see that I have mixed feelings about Capone. In terms of the cinematic pantheon of Al Capone media, it proves to be an interesting if not wholly successful addition. The narrative is filled with good idea that don’t get fully realised. Tom Hardy’s very unhinged performance is worth the price of admission, but I can’t see Capone coming to be regarded as a must watch in either the gangster or biopic genres. Most definitely a case of a promising sounding movie being just ‘okay’, not living up to its exciting potential.

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