This week I jumped into “Capone,” Josh Trank’s new movie featuring Tom Hardy as the notorious 20s-era gangster. Available from most online streaming services (I got mine from Amazon), this newly released full feature film is available to rent or buy from the comfort of your own couch.
As a big fan of Peaky Blinders, I was stoked for this movie. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of intense Yiddish gangster, Alfie Solomons, is easily my favourite character on the show, and one of my favourite chaotic natural characters of all time.
Alfie Solomons, according to Peaky Blinders fandom was a man “violent and unpredictable, but intelligent and calculating… Although he appears to [like] Tommy… it does not mean he won’t do business with Tommy’s rivals… In short, despite Alfie’s straightforward character and rationalizations… he is completely untrustworthy unless people offer him the right price, and even then, there is no guarantee he won’t switch sides.”
Needless to say, after seeing Tom Hardy knock Alfie out of the park (and he REALLY does), I was fucking stoked for this film. I mean come on! Tom Hardy as Capone? Colour me intrigued.
So anyway, all that to say I was excited going in. Then I watched it. And well… it was definitely interesting.
To elaborate, it definitely wasn’t what I was expecting. The story takes place in Florida (not Chicago) during the last year of Capone’s life. And I knew that going in… but I suppose I was expecting more of a reflection on his legacy? Instead, it mainly chronicles Capone’s mental and physical decline into near-catatonic psychosis. Again, this is mostly against the backdrop of an opulent but distinctly Floridian estate.
A little background: Alfonse Capone caught neurosyphilis when he was young (by some accounts age 15 or 20). Embarrassed, he refused to treat it when younger. The movie begins with Capone at 48, after having already served a decade in prison and being released early due to his deteriorating health.
Hence by the time our story starts, Capone’s story is well into ending.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s definitely a tale to be told here—namely one of a very confused and delusional man besieged by paranoia, tortured by ghosts and jerking through muscle-memory-like habits of violence. The gilded kingdom of power and wealth he’s built over his life is helpless to aid him. His prison is his own body; his torment is his own mind.
In this way, it’s a powerful character study. It reminds me of the story-telling used in Joker. It’s a tight view into their title characters’ perspective. Together with the main character, the viewer slips down an unstoppable descent. Hardy does an amazing job at depicting this decline: Capone’s outbursts go from low-humming menace to the staggering and near pitiable snappings of an utterly rabid old man.
The pacing was also very natural. By that, I mean Capone’s is a torment that twists slowly. At times, the larger plotting, lighting, and scenes reminded me of a psychological thriller or an art-house horror.
You find yourself waiting for jump scares or fully immersed in scenes where you know reality has cracked. The line between Capone’s partially and fully dissociative episodes is often blurred. I spent a lot of time looking for signposts and conjecturing at the underlying reality during much of the film.
To be clear, this was all done extremely well (for the vast majority). But at times the approach seemed to overshadow its main character. As my spouse put it after we finished the film: “The movie seemed more about dementia than any one person. I’m not sure it had to be Capone in this story.”
“I’m not sure it had to be Capone in this story.”
I’m pretty sure I agree. Is it more interesting for the fact that it’s Capone’s demise as opposed to anyone else’s? Of course. Was his specific experiences and person necessary for the plot to unfold?
But enough about story-form and pacing. Let’s get to the meat: Tom Hardy’s actual performance.
As I’d hope would be obvious, Tom Hardy, for better or for worse, was in a position to carry or fumble this entire film. After all, the movie is called “Capone.” Tom Hardy played Capone. His performance was going to be pivotal.
To stall for a touch longer, I should start by saying, in general, I like Tom Hardy. In my perfect world, he would always be in something a little bit madcap, a little bit gritty. His characters would all be damnable, lovable, world-weary sages; people so fully born and raised in violence that their violence itself has turned jaded.
In Capone, Hardy depicts a madman plagued with the memories from a lifetime of bloodshed And he definitely shines… at times.
There are some extremely powerful moments I doubt anyone else could’ve achieved. Tom Hardy is unquestionably a man who knows how to speak with his silences. When Capone transitions from man-of-quiet-and-barely-veiled-violence to man-so-infirm-he-will-remain-trapped-in-his-body-until-death, we feel the echoes of every unspoken word. And. It. Is. Powerful.
But there are also moments that simply get away from him. Straight up: I burst out laughing twice in spots I know weren’t intended to be funny. In a dramatic biopic, this probably isn’t ideal.
There’s an episode in Dan Harmon’s Community where pop-culture-loving idiot-savant Abed has a psychological break while trying to conclude, based on evidence alone, whether Nicholas Cage is an objectively “good” or “bad” actor.
Is Nicholas Cage a good or bad actor? Depends on the movie. Was Tom Hardy good in Capone? Depends on the scene.
I realize how that sounds but… it’s also just true! There are times where all I could think was “Holy Crap, Tom Hardy can command an entire room with a grunt.” There are other times where it devolved into nosferatu-like over-acting.
Here’s the thing though: I don’t think it’s anyone’s fault. Tom Hardy just has a weird energy, man. In comedies, he’s often too intense; in dramas, he’s often too madcap. Is it lethal to the story? No. But each one of these moments cut counter to the emotional goal. Do that enough times, you can’t help but take a notch out of the payoff.
In conclusion, there it is: some great, some bad. Not terrible, not perfect.
All in all: I’d give it two Nic Cages and a Joker.