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Damn it feels weird to be a gangster – ‘Capone’

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Sometimes, you have a movie experience that is unlike any that you’ve ever had before. It’s not about whether the movie is good or bad – we’re talking about something that can’t be so simply defined. We’re talking about a movie that is bad-good or good-bad, a wildly uneven project featuring elements both excellent and execrable.

We’re talking, ladies and gentlemen, about “Capone.”

“Capone” transcends the very idea of good and bad. The passion project of writer/director Josh Trank is such a jarringly weird viewing experience that it’s hard to use general terms in describing its quality. The storytelling choices are often vividly unpleasant and the narrative flow is inconsistent – all of which is exacerbated by a needle-pinning performance from Tom Hardy in the titular role.

This is a film that fails to work in a multitude of ways, yet remains eminently watchable. Granted, it’s peek-through-the-fingers watchable at times, but watchable nevertheless. “Capone” is a roadside accident of a movie – unfortunate and potentially gruesome, yet still oddly fascinating to look at.

Hardy portrays the legendary gangster Al Capone at the end of his life. While Capone managed to avoid taking the rap for many of his crimes, he got nabbed for tax evasion. Those charges led to his spending a decade in prison before his eventual release, which came about due to the deterioration of his mental faculties (the repercussions of a long-term case of neurosyphilis).

Sent to live in exile in Florida, Capone and his family struggle to reckon with the rapid crumbling of his mind. He is belligerent and confused, combative and incontinent. There are vivid hallucinations, visions of his past and manifestations of his present-day paranoia. His family is there – his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini, TV’s “Dead to Me”), his son Junior (Noel Fisher, TV’s “Shameless”) his sister Rosie (Kathrine Narducci, “The Irishman”) – as well as a few holdovers from his previous illicit existence.

Right from the get-go, we’re looking at a man who is a shell of what he used to be. Capone’s degeneration happens extremely quickly, with his dignity disappearing along with his cognitive capabilities; his failures are presented with an unapologetic viscerality. Things get … scatological.

All the while, the timeline is wobbling even as Capone’s reality falls apart. Different people wander through this odd slurry of memory and hallucination – people like longtime associate Johnny (Matt Dillon, “Proxima”) and current soldiers like Gino (Gino Cafarelli, “The Irishman”) and Ralphie (Al Sapienza, “Sacrifice”) – as the last vestiges of the man known as Al Capone disintegrate.

That’s it, really – not a lot actually happens in “Capone.” It’s more a character study, with the film’s events mattering only in how they relate to the spiraling decline of Capone himself – so much so that scenes taking place outside of Capone’s immediacy are legitimately jarring … though that’s far from the only thing about this movie that is jarring.

Few filmmakers in recent memory have had the kind of roller coaster run we’ve seen from Trank, who made a splash with his 2012 debut, the found-footage superhero deconstruction “Chronicle,” only to land himself in director jail for a half-decade following the utter debacle that was the “Fantastic Four” reboot in 2015. This is a long-term passion project for Trank, who handled editing duties along with writing and directing the film. It is also proof that passion, however fiery, isn’t always enough.

There’s an uneasy ambiguity to the film, a blurriness that is clearly intended to indicate the opaque inconsistency that often accompanies dementia. But while that device is occasionally effective, it mostly serves merely to confuse the proceedings, leaving the viewer to piece things together on their own; while there’s nothing inherently wrong with challenging an audience, there should be some sort of worthwhile payoff. Here, there’s none.

As for Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Capone, well … there’s a lot to unpack. There’s a camp (one in which I reside, full disclosure) that believes Hardy is one of his generations most gifted actors. The cliché of character actor trapped in leading man’s body gets tossed around pretty freely, but I believe it’s an apt description of Hardy. He has never been one to make the expected choice, preferring instead to follow his instincts and interests wherever they may lead. Sometimes, that results in innovative and engaging work. Other times, it results in “Capone.”

Make no mistake – Hardy is going for it as hard as he has ever gone for it here. He layers his voice with a gravelly, wavering affect; much of his dialogue is grunted monosyllables. He’s buried under makeup, continuing the weird Hardy MO of facial concealment. He quakes and totters and falls, stumbling and shouting his way through the film. It is undeniably big, not a Best Actor performance so much as a MOST Actor performance - one that warrants both praise and admonishment.

The rest of the cast feels almost like an afterthought, really. Cardellini has carved out a niche playing these sorts of wife parts; she does her best, but she’s not given much to work with. Dillon has a few good scenes. Everyone else is … fine. It’s almost as though they looked at what Hardy was doing and figured no one would be looking at them anyway – and they weren’t wrong.

The mere existence of “Capone” is fascinating, the passion project of a failed big-budget director who managed to secure significant financing, only to make a movie that no one wanted to distribute. It is weird and confusing and a little gross, a film that seems to revel in being aggressively off-putting and features an A-lister in an off-the-rails lead performance. Frankly, the biggest benefit to having seen it at all is the first-hand knowledge that yes, it really is that bizarre.

In the end, “Capone” is kaput.

[1.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 18 May 2020 12:11

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