Review: Tom Hardy’s “Capone” is Wasted in Retelling the Most Boring Year of the Mobster’s Life
Director Josh Trank’s “Capone” stars Tom Hardy as the eponymous American mobster in the twilight year of his life. Capone, who is referred to almost exclusively as “Fonse,” was recently released from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on account of his late-stage syphilis, and lives in exile, and under government surveillance, on his gilded estate in Palm Island, Florida. His illness has affected his brain rendering him increasingly volatile, paranoid, and hardly lucid. Capone’s wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), his emotionally exhausted caretaker, enlists a doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) to assuage his worsening mental and physical health. Meanwhile, the mobster’s former criminal compatriot (Matt Dillion) and older brother (Al Sapienza) frequently visit to check in on the head honcho emeritus, and reminisce on old times.
Hardy’s embodiment of the gangster is noteworthy. His distinct Brooklyn accent, guttural voice, which often devolves into a growl, and ghastly facial expressions, make for an engaging ensemble. My immediate reaction is one of pity and disgust as he spends the majority of the film in a state of confusion, and an uncomfortable amount of time engaging in unsavory acts such as soiling the bed, urinating himself, and coughing and spitting in every which way. Sporting a bathrobe and diaper, he trudges through his warped memories and tainted reality. The retired mob boss relives fanciful parties and underworld interrogations from yesteryear, and experiences hallucinations throughout his home. For all the time he spends conjuring up his lurid past, the director just as well could have made a film about his heyday. It is unclear to me why Trank chose to dramatize the last chapter of Capone’s life; it’s analogous to making a Napoleon biopic and focusing on Elba rather than Waterloo; except, the comings and goings on Elba were probably more interesting.
That being said, honing in on the lesser known chapters of well-known individuals can occasionally make for compelling narratives (think of The Joker), but Capone was doomed from the beginning because the gangster’s final year is not a narrative at all.
The plot is barely dirigible as nothing propels it forward with the exception of Capone’s drifting mind and a perfunctory pursuit of missing millions. Early on, the ailing mobster confides in an erstwhile comrade that he buried $10 million dollars long ago, but cannot quite remember where he put it. The federal agents, who have wiretapped the Palm Island home and enlisted many of the characters in Capone’s periphery as informants, have also gotten wind of the misplaced loot. Additionally, Capone’s secret, estranged, bastard son repeatedly calls the house phone to talk to his father, but remains tight-lipped. His motives and whereabouts are not clear. Practically speaking, these two externalities, the lost money and the mysterious, laconic son, are inconsequential as there is no serious investment in recovering the money or unraveling the enigma of the son. The heart of the film, which the viewers are begrudgingly at the mercy of, is Capone’s capricious, illusory mind.
While the acting on the part of Hardy, and the rest of the supporting cast, is notable, it is all for naught. Ultimately, there is not a compelling story to be told. Instead, there is a nonlinear hodgepodge of recollections and illusions tinged with the guilt of a dying man. As far as I can gather, the principal takeaway is to remind the viewer to be patient with loved ones who suffer from dementia or have lost control of their motor functions, and above all, to keep firearms out of the hands of such people.