New Releases: Capone (2020)-Reviewed

Rising from the dead after being put in director jail for 2015's Fantastic Four, Josh Trank returns with the year's most bonkers film, Capone. Outside of Ava Duvarney, Trank is maybe the most perfect example of why the online nerd community shouldn't be allowed to dictate the discourse surrounding filmmakers after their genre studio property fails. Trank's ideas for Marvel's First Family remain ambitious and I'll forever be interested in what he could've accomplished without studio interference. It's a shame that he's been decidedly ousted by film fans because his superhero movie dared to be a little outside-the-box. Was it a good film? Not really but again, it was met with massive studio pressure and it's not at all representative of what he set out to do. 

Taking all of that into account, it's a genuine treat to see him finally let loose on an American institution in all the ways he wasn't allowed to on FF. Set during the mythic criminal's final days, Trank seeks to de-mythologize the man by turning everything we thought we knew about the Gangster Flick on its head. Joined by an astonishingly wild Tom Hardy, Trank drops us into the surrealist nightmare that is Fonzo's (we're not allowed to call him "Al" says his wife) neurosyphilitic-addled head. 

"Last Days" biopics aren't something I find particularly exciting. I met this one with a ton of skepticism. It's a relief, then, that aside from its basic premise, its anything but. The main thrust of the film is as Fonzo deteriorates, his associates and the FBI prod him and scour his estate for fabled treasure that he claims to have buried. It's the world's last ditch effort to takedown the criminal. But that's just set dressing for the real show, Tom Hardy's one part Bugs Bunny, one part Marlon Brando performance and its journey through a house of horrors.

Critic Scout Tafoya masterfully described this as "The AFI Top 100 as the Overlook Hotel" and I can't think of a more apt comparison. Once you dive in through that lens, it's a terrifying and darkly funny blast. Fonzo wanders through his mansion encountering ghosts of his past lurking around every corner. Through one door is a city street as gangsters fire tommy guns, through another a luxurious party ("Great party, isn't it?") celebrating Fonzo. The point of whether it's real or not isn't as relevant as the legacy Fonzo is leaving behind and what it's doing to his psyche. He isn't able to verbalize much so instead we see the guilt he feels manifested through horrific imagery, a stand out moment being Fonzo, in full on Jack Torrance mania, crawling over a mountain of dead bodies, screaming in terror. Coupled with being reduced to pissing and shitting his pants, Trank gets to experiment with putting a hero through the body horror that he desperately wanted to with FF. 

This isn't quite the "End-of-The-Gangster" deconstruction that The Irishman was but rather its messier, anarchic cousin. Whereas Scorsese sought to depict the fallacy that is the hero worship of gangsters through Frank Sheeran's loneliness, Trank seeks to unleash grotesque violence and bodily degradation as the consequence of a culture obsessed with glorifying the bad guy.

One of the charms of Capone is how well it blends many bygone eras together. Trank's filmmaking is as assured and tightly wound as an Old Hollywood production, the gaudiness of Capone's estate an eerie juxtaposition to Hardy's disgusting behavior. Hardy, for his part, takes equal parts Edward G. Robinson and 70s Brando and prowls through the film like a caged tiger. There are moments in the film where you're not sure who, if anyone, he's directing his ire towards and it's mesmerizing. Cigar always planted in mouth (eventually replaced by a carrot just to drive home the metaphor), he stalks, bounces, crawls and roars like a cartoon come to life. Hardy is always a gift to watch because he's the kind of go-for-broke actor who leaves it all on screen and this might be his masterpiece. It's the kind of performance we see so little of now and the derision it's received makes me wonder how we'd meet a 70s-era Brando today. No matter what, Hardy's is a performance that's tough to qualify.

In fact, it's difficult to qualify Capone through parameters of "good" or "bad" on any level. It's messy, all over the place and over the top, sometimes hilariously so. But it's also a film so wholly of its own from an idiosyncratic filmmaker that shows once again, without executives breathing down his neck, that he has so much to say. I'm of the firm belief that if you like something, you like something. It's easy to look at something being gleefully lambasted and try to frame your positive opinion as a "Guilty Pleasure." But I don't feel guilty loving Capone. It's representative of the kind of films I want more of. I want every filmmaker with something to say to be allowed the chance to say it and throw all of themselves onscreen every time. Trank's version of that was to give us a mumbling Tom Hardy in excessive makeup firing a gold plated tommy gun at a crocodile while chomping on a carrot. And I loved every second of it. 

-Brandon Streussnig