There is a fine line between haunting and laughable and Josh Trank’s “Capone” toes that line bunglingly. Some of the images certainly transport the viewer into a wicked nightmare, as Al “Fonz” Capone (Tom Hardy) waddles his way through a dreamscape rife with cascading jet black and steel gray balloons, violent acts of savagery, ravenous alligators, and renditions of “Blueberry Hill”. Others will make them question what the point is after all the commotion settles.
Certain characters’ plots are underwritten and far too much time is spent languishing upon the decrepit former Chicago crime boss and his struggle to maintain a semblance of reality. “Capone” above all else provides a one-dimensional ride through the swampy muck that has risen and imprisoned the Syphilis-ridden gangster in his terracotta-roofed lacquered cage of a mansion. The illness-induced fog that surrounds Fonzo’s life has begun to obfuscate his past, ridden with guilt over abandoned children and murdered friends. The approach is far from seamless, as the film sometimes loses focus and begins to meander, yet it does get its point across no matter how heavy-handed the manner of it might be.
Some might refer to the dream-like quality of the film as a proto-Lynchian expression of loss and regret under the guise of a harsh glossy Roaring Twenties aesthetic. Yet, the only discernable evidence of a connection to Lynch’s beautifully haunting nightmares was the appearance of Kyle MacLachlan as Doctor Karlock, who even seemed out of place in this bland world. Lynch has made a career of displaying the eternal battle between the light and the dark, tormenting those in between. The reason fans are so endeared to his characters in “Blue Velvet” or “Twin Peaks” is precisely because he made them care, the people under siege by these forces were people worth caring for.
It is not enough that the federal agent, Crawford (Jack Lowden), who was pursuing Fonzo and his elusive bag of ten million dollars cash, compared the eponymous figure to Hitler, we as an audience were given no outlet to commiserate with him in his pain. Sympathy is offered as we clearly see a man suffering to discern the difference between reality and fiction. Yet, there is no empathy because when he was off, relatively, well body and mind he allowed acts of unimaginable cruelty to take place. You do not feel his pain as an estranged father or as a grieving friend because the lead performance has a decidedly comic value to it. Tom Hardy has a reputation for particularly outlandish intonations, yet the high-pitched muttering and stuttering of a near-zombified man in a bathrobe, wielding a “Tommy” gun, and smoking the nub of a carrot – in place of his iconic cigar for health reasons – is jarring in every realm of the imagination.
The largest flaw that can be levied upon Trank’s inscrutable effort in “Capone” is the inescapability of its premise. The confines limit even the slightest chance of an affinity for the embattled character. There is no emotional payoff because there never was a chance to view this man in a state of well-being, and perhaps he never was, but what we are offered is quite pathetic. That very well might be the point, yet without a visual accentuation to augment the obscurity of the plot, the audience is left between a hallucinatory fantasy and a world of boredom. This is particularly underscored in the many instances of ceaseless and gratuitous violence that served no greater end other than shock value. While moments might startle the audience, this film – similar to its titular character – rots from the inside out.
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