Capone, review: Tom Hardy’s off-the-leash gangster pic is a stinker
Dir: Josh Trank. Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan. 18 cert, 103 mins
Capone takes you back – not particularly to the Florida of the 1940s, where Al Capone lived out his last syphilitic years, but to the autumn of 2015, when Tom Hardy starred in Legend, his double-duty biopic of the Kray twins. Next to what Hardy makes of Capone here, that film’s gurgling, rancid and overacted portrait of Ronnie Kray starts to look like a dainty watercolour sketch.
At the age of 40, Chicago’s most notorious gangster was released after his near-10-year stint for tax evasion, having spent the last year of that sentence in the hospital ward of Alcatraz, his brain rotting away. The authorities assumed he was no longer a public threat, and let him out to subside into a cushy retirement surrounded by his family in the Florida Keys, albeit under federal watch in case he got back up to any of his notorious tricks.
It’s only at this point that Josh Trank’s film – which was shot in early 2018, was released in America last year and is only now reaching Britain – checks in on Capone. It scarcely bothers with his Prohibition glory days, except in the odd bitty flashback; not at all with the grand jury indictment you may remember from The Untouchables (1987); still less that ensuing decade in the clink.
The film’s problem, or its daring, depending on your point of view, is that there wasn’t much left of Capone’s life by these later stages, except a gruesome slide into a grimly diminished mental state marked by childlike behaviour and frequent lapses of bowel control. In zeroing in on an ignoble endgame, Trank’s film presumably wanted to fit into the “last days” subgenre of biopics, such as, well, Last Days (2005), Gus Van Sant’s thinly disguised portrait of Kurt Cobain shambling around, or Alexander Sokurov’s brilliant The Sun (also 2005), about the eerie isolation of Emperor Hirohito in the dying days of the Second World War.
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Both those films were hypnotically weird and worked: committing, for one thing, to a minimal cast, they stripped all hubbub away and left a spacey echo around those infamous lives. Even the more fitful Bronson (2008), which might now be called the first in Hardy’s “Psycho Hoodlum Trilogy”, used vaudeville stylings to keep its hero trapped in the spotlight – but made sure that the only true audience for him was the camera.
Making a few half-hearted gestures in these directions, Capone is a far more uncertain and botched job. It backs Hardy up with a regulation supporting cast, including Linda Cardellini as Capone’s weary wife, Kyle MacLachlan as a Mob doctor, and Jack Lowden as an FBI agent called Crawford. Their roles are barely of interest except as sounding boards, and yet various scenes cut away from the Hardy spectacle to give them exposition-y sidebars. Scared of rigour, the film keeps trying to shoehorn standard biopic formulae into the very non-standard situation that Trank – best-known for his falling-out with Fox over the release cut of his Fantastic Four (2015) – has chosen.
If the director had coaxed a truly inspired turn from Hardy, these might have been minor irritations. Performances this gamey, though, are uncorked, not coaxed, and the state of the contents are pot luck. Let’s just say it’s not our day. Hardy looks like something dumped out of a sarcophagus. He has certainly never looked worse, with a slaphead the texture of month-old liver pate, blood vessels crawling from his cheeks, and a few unsavoury strands of hair escaping over the top. His line readings, a few of them in “look-ma” performative Italian, are so raspily grotesque they even prompt comment from co-stars. “You sound like a dying horse,” mutters Matt Dillon, looking half his age as an erstwhile associate. But no living creature emits these sounds.
Dropping its leash on a star who needs one, the film mistakes decrepitude for drama, and the closest it gets to mid-scene narrative suspense is wondering whether Al Capone has just let himself go with a number one or two. A late interrogation on Al’s back lawn is punctuated by so many gaseous emissions it starts to feel like he’s replying in Morse code. Trank is welcome to all his other inventions, obviously – Capone clenching a carrot between his teeth, because the doctors have banned cigars? Fine – but is this gag worth three explanatory scenes? What’s gained by imagining phone calls from an illegitimate son, speechless at the other end of the line?
It’s not a case of asking the real Al Capone to stand up – with one thing and another, he might be better off seated. But it would be nice if the real Tom Hardy made an appearance.
Available on Netflix from Wednesday 24
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