When he’s not reading bedtime stories to kids, Tom Hardy is urinating in the corners of film sets marking his territory (figuratively of course). Which makes sense when you look back on the ever-growing list of psychopaths and madmen he has played over the years, no doubt pushing him into some pretty heavy role prep. Whether it’s taking on the persona of Charles Bronson, heavy-breathing life into Bane’s anarchist mentality, or bowling around mid-20th century London as both Kray twins (while also not forgetting Warrior, Venom, Peaky Blinders and The Drop), Hardy never shies away from taking on mentally-unhinged figures.
If the title hasn’t given it away by now, the latest addition to his CV is Al Capone, in a film that was originally slated for a cinema released but moved to VOD via Signature Entertainment and renamed from its original Fonzo title. It also sees the return of writer-director Josh Trank, whose smart sci-fi thriller, Chronicle, set up the opportunity to helm the 2015 Fantastic Four tentpole – but the less said about the outcome of that the better. Trank’s complaint was that final cut privileges were taken away by 20th Century Studios, which may be true, but with no such restrictions on Capone, it will be interesting to see him explain away the many problems with his third film.
But then again, a lot rests on the performance of Hardy and maybe that’s where the real problem lies – but we’ll get to that later. In terms of set up, we are introduced to Capone (Fonz to close friends and family) aged 48, only a short while before he died in early 1947. His life as the kingpin of Chicago is long gone, following almost a decade in jail for tax evasion, and a diagnosis of neurosyphilis that has left him a shadow of his former self. He now resides with his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) in a lavish lakeside property in Palm Island, Florida, chewing on his signature cigars, wrapped in paranoia (as well as his own piss and shit), and haunted by memories of his brutally violent past.
While Capone is losing his grip on reality and imagining the presence of his dead best friend Johnny (Matt Dillon) his paranoia isn’t totally misplaced. The FBI are listening into his conversations and manipulating his doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) in an attempt to find $10 million he stashed away years ago – but can’t remember where he put it. But really, that’s the least of Capone’s problems, as his failing health effectively cuts him off from the outside world and inside his own nightmares. That’s the perspective Trank views this world from, taking us through a series of barmy scenes filtered through the eyes of a once powerful man now reduced to little more than a child.
If Tom Hardy wearing a nappy, chewing on a carrot stem and firing a gold-plated tommy gun is not the defining image of 2020, we need to be shown what is. For those who haven’t quite got the idea about Capone’s state of mind up until this point, it should act as the clincher. But you'd have to wonder why the confusion, as before that we see Louis Armstrong serenading Capone with “Blueberry Hill”, eyes gouged out of skulls, conversations with ghosts, alligators being blasted with a shotgun and hear the sound of a man defecating himself with added ‘comedy’ sound affects (you can only cringe during this scene).
Capone was a larger than life character and upon first glance Hardy seems to be a good fit. After all, as mentioned at the start of the review, he's lived inside the head of more than a few lunatics. Placed under heavy make-up and prosthetics, it also requires him to take on yet another broad (or maybe that’s bra-hd) accent for the native Chicagoan, although his dialogue is largely clipped. That may explain why his physical movements look so exaggerated and pre-meditated, communicating through body language instead of speech. Yet, it turns Capone into more of a caricature than anything else. Hardy has never been the most subtle of actors and you would do well not to stifle a laugh at the many confused and wide-eye reactions that take hold of his face. It seems only the permanent presence of an object stuck in his mouth prevented the set decorator from having to work overtime during production.
There are some other loose ends that are mostly glossed over, such as a long lost son who keeps silent-calling their home and the FBI’s nearby presence that never really amounts to much. Capone is shot without much fuss and even with Sam Raimi and David Lynch-collaborator Peter Deming serving as cinematographer, the nightmare sequences never really catch fire. The rest of the cast are on a fairly easy pay cheque as this is Hardy’s show, which feels like a misuse of talent when you have the likes of Cardellini, Dillon and MacLachlan hovering in the wings.
As with his two previous efforts, Capone sees Trank focus on a figure wrestling with the demands of power and the ensuing fallout. With the film set just two years after the death of Hitler it seems like a missed opportunity not to draw parallels between the two, and instead, Trank seems content with an insane Hardy marauding around in a diaper. Despite the silliness in many ways it plays out as a semi-psychological horror, with small droplets of blood and gore thrown in for good effect. It’s difficult to see how this could have had much success in cinemas, so following the change to Oscar rules and the reduced number of releases for 2020, we can only hope this gets the Academy shine it deserves.
Capone can be seen on VOD from May 12.