When Chronicle hit theaters in 2012, word about Josh Trank spread fast due to his personal and idiosyncratic vision through the lens of a handheld camera. It’s been widely considered the best of its kind since, but his follow-up effort Fant4stic put Josh Trank on a path with no return in sight. In what is discussed as one of the most butchered productions in the modern era, the Trank and 20th Century Fox collaboration was disastrous, even by his opinion. Whether or not it’s true that Trank completely mishandled his responsibility and let his ego get in his own way, or Fox threw Trank under the bus to save face is up for debate. Ever since however, Trank has been stuck in Hollywood limbo, returning withCapone.
Starring Tom Hardy, Matt Dillon, and Linda Cardellini in a twisted canvas of mental deterioration and maniacal descent in the final days of the notorious gangster Al Capone, the film caught significant buzz because of Trank’s own divisive history and the film’s graphic content. Much of the discourse surrounding the film has been about Trank’s lack of empathy and unclear tonal intentions. Trank even went as far as to backtrack and say that the movie “could have been a comedy”, furthering many audience members’ aggravation with his personality. One that seems to tweet like he knows it all, and has all the answers, but doesn’t even understand his own work. As such, Caponeis pretty polarizing, but its audaciousness and ambition are emblematic of Trank’s distinct perspective.
For all of the talk about Tom Hardy’s face being covered in most of his recent roles, Hardy comes face to face, uncovered, with the soul of Al Capone. Grunting, waddling, and glaring through the last year of his life as he continues to battle with dementia. An internal war with one’s true self as the waning days of his legacy meets his heyday as a crime boss. Two eras clash and Trank lends a camera to overseeing the internal collapse of Al Capone. Highlighting the significance of his iconography via statues stationed around his home in Florida, as a sort of visual reminder to the mythology that he carries. The mythology that is so rich and violent, that another movie diving headfirst into Capone’s heyday would seem redundant. Instead, we get an audacious and ambitious stranglehold of a film that is concerned with the fragmented mind that dementia will create, and it sharpens the blades and quickens the bullets that riddled his life.
For Hardy, this isn’t his most prolific work, but he manages to lend a specific nuance through his facial expressions. There is a type of art to a convincing grunt, menacing glare, or vulgar yelling at an alligator, and Hardy excels at drawing the audience in through his twisted ramblings. The way that Trank chooses to edit the film without aggressive hard cuts to the flashbacks is a surefire sign of confidence in the visual language of the film. Instead of holding the audience’s hand and signaling that we’re seeing something out of the present day, Trank seamlessly makes it look and feel like Capone is experiencing it as he would be. A simple empty stare into the distance as we visit a new setting without a change in color palette is so refreshing. During these times it’s as demented and grueling as it probably was for Capone. Happening spontaneously, and in the blink of an eye. One second he’s basking in the sun of Florida, and the next his mind is being ripped to shreds by his past. It’s handled extremely well, and Trank’s fingerprints are all over it.
To sour on the film briefly, Capone does struggle with the power swings that it takes. After a while, you begin to wonder when a significant point will be made, or if there is ever going to be a thematic crescendo, but it never quite gets there. Which, by no means is always a bad thing, but that ambition doesn’t feel like it pays off as much as it should. There’s nothing wrong with a movie living and breathing in the moments that define it, but the scales are tipped so heavily in one direction that some form of elegance would offset its abrasiveness. Either way, it’s a visual brute of a movie, it walks around with squared shoulders and a pissed off demeanor that very much works.
Despite everything already out there on Capone and the character of Josh Trank, nothing can quite prepare you for the onslaught that this movie is. It’s an easy 100-minute watch that shines light on a new perspective for one of the most iconic figures in American history. It’s a breath of fresh air, even if that air reeks of anger and disgust. Trank choosing to make an isolated drama on Al Capone following his own troubled history seems like a match made in heaven. After his departure from big blockbusters, the return to a smaller project with the experience backing him, I feel a lot of the emotion he probably felt assembling this movie. Confronting those demons of his own, spreading anger to people that may have caused them, feeling nothing but resentment and sorrow for those days when the world made more sense when he was doing what he loved, even if it ended up burning him.
There is a gripping truth and mortality to this story that confronts the deterioration of the mind, and ultimately, the soul. How those icons, no matter how unstoppable they seemed at a point, will crash back down to Earth at some point, in some capacity. Maybe that’s not what Trank was aiming for at all, he seems to be backtracking based on a mostly negative reception, but his work speaks for itself, and I see a movie that went to war, but no battles were won.
Although it’s ambitions crush its subtlety, Capone strips down its icon as it traverses the pains that the passages of time have to offer.