When Josh Trank directed found-footage superhero thriller Chronicle in 2012, it looked to be the sign of a new talent making his way into fame. 3 years later, the disastrous Fant4stic and his arrogant diva behaviour combined with Fox’s executive meddling sent his career spiralling down. His latest film, an attempt at a come-back and a team-up with the acclaimed Tom Hardy suffered delays but was largely his vision, though despite being a step up from Fant4stic it is not a return to form.
In 1940, former head of the Mafia Al Capone (Tom Hardy) is 40 years old and slowly loosing his mind to a battle with paranoia and health problems. Whilst his wife Mae (Linda Cardelini) and family try to deal with him, an FBI agent (Jack Lowden) attempts to find criminal evidence to convict him, specifically through money that he has hidden in the house but cannot remember where.
The central stylistic conceit is that of telling a (slightly true but mostly fictional) story through Capone’s decaying physical and mental state, which is refreshingly ambitious after infamous failures like Gotti and even decent mob films like Black Mass often tried too hard to be Scorsese-esque. But the narrative is incredibly problematic on many levels. Whilst not as disjointed and drawn-out as Fant4stic, this film does feel like two films stuck together, one being a dream-like character study and the other being a regular crime drama. As a result, neither aspect is very successfully presented. Aside from the middle dream sequence, most of the strange scenes do not flesh out Al Capone as a character (beyond showing that he is paranoid) and the mystery that surrounds him is too vague and bland to be compelling.
It is the kind of film that would have worked better as a short just focusing on either of these two elements, because the back and forth extends this film to a length that it does not manage to justify, especially once the incoherent climax and flat ending rolls around. There are also certain story elements that are confusingly presented and ultimately feel pointless in the end, adding to this film’s rambling and fragmented nature.
As for the acting, Tom Hardy is very much the central figure and much like Venom, this is an example of his normally intense dedication going overboard and turning into camp. Whilst his transformative and emotional performance is sometimes impressive, it is often unintentionally hilarious and just plain awkward to watch. The supporting cast do fair better, even though actors like Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden and Matt Dillion as a friend of Al’s can do much better than this.
Trank’s direction also drags this film down. The look veers between impressive and cheap and the editing is very indulgent. Despite only being 104 minutes, it feels much slower, especially because of the constant lingering shots and the number of close-ups on Hardy that make it feel visually repetitive. The direction comes to life sometimes whenever the more surreal aspects show up, but even then one cannot help but get the feeling that Trank was taking advantage of the freedom he had and ultimately ended up going too far the other way.
Capone is commendable for it’s ambition but is otherwise a rather pretentious and awkward experience. As it stands, Trank has not managed to get his mojo back but he has proved that he could probably make a decent episode of a TV show, maybe he should work there instead.