REVIEW: ‘Capone’ (2020) is on the Cusp of Greatness

Rating: 3 out of 3.

“There are just enough flaws holding the film back and preventing it from fulfilling its full potential.”

Following the calamity of 2015’s Fantastic Four director Josh Trank has had something of a disgraced reputation. He exited a standalone Star Wars film shortly before the release of Fantastic Four and has been largely dormant since then. After a 5-year period of silence he’s making a comeback of sorts with Capone, his take on a biopic focused on Al Capone, played by Tom Hardy.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Capone is how it manages to avoid many of the trapping’s biopics tend to face. Rather than charting the entirety of Al Capone’s life, the film makes it clear upfront that is honing in on the final year of his life, which provides the film with a sense of focus and room for development not present in so many other biopics.

The film also doesn’t have any sort of complex about wanting to appear prestigious enough to garner awards. Capone’s deteriorating health is at the centre of the film, as he’s suffering from neurosyphilis. The results of this are often portrayed in a somewhat grotesque manner, and it’s certainly not what one would expect from a typical biopic.

Tom Hardy is known to make sometimes incredibly unusual choices as far as accents are concerned, and as Capone this is no different. In fact, almost every decision he makes when playing the eponymous character is strange, and there is no sense of vanity to it whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine any other actor in this role, as it demands an actor to commit to various scenes that most would perceive as embarrassing. An example of this is when, on the recommendation of his doctor (Kyle Maclaughlin), Capone should begin to use carrots as a substitute for cigars. This is a ridiculous image to picture, yet Hardy plays into it fully with no sense of embarrassment towards the material.

Image Courtesy of Bron Studios

Trank has said that he’s “interested in movies is just the deconstruction of myth, the deconstruction of iconic figures” and this is evident within the film. It goes a long way in demystifying the idea of a gangster (not dissimilar to the Irishman last year). Many scenes within the film are dedicated to Capone dealing with the trauma and guilt he’s left with from his past actions, often seeing visions of people he’s killed. These are the film’s most interesting scenes, and it’s most compelling when it’s focusing on this aspect of Capone. The problem is that these scenes don’t take up enough of the film.

Whilst there are many things to admire about Capone, the problem is that whenever the focus shifts from Hardy to the other characters in the film, it becomes infinitely less interesting. Scenes without him, or scenes where he isn’t the focus, feel so much more rote than they should, as everything that makes the film’s best aspects work so well is almost entirely absent. A scene between Capone’s wife (Linda Cardellini) and son (Al Sapienza) highlights this issue perfectly, as their exchange talking about his deteriorating state and how he was a good father plays out with no impact whatsoever. There isn’t enough attention given to these characters to make them interesting to watch, nor is anything revealed about Capone’s character to make the scene feel necessary.

Image Courtesy of Bron Studios

There is an inconsistency with how the film looks which makes it at times visually appealing and at times not so much. Scenes shot indoors or at night typically have better lighting and make good use of colours and shadows, whilst scenes shot outdoors or during the day tend to look over lit and bland with no strong visual choices, leaving the film’s look appear strange from scene to scene.

These various issues leave the film feeling on the cusp of greatness. Trank has a genuinely interesting idea for the film and at times he achieves it, but there are just enough flaws holding the film back and preventing it from fulfilling its full potential.

Director & Writer: Josh Trank

Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Kyle Maclaughlin

Producers: Russell Ackerman, Lawrence Bender, Aaron L. Gilbert, John Schoenfelder

Available now to rent or buy digitally