Josh Trank is the film-maker who took flight in 2012 with his brilliant superhero-nerd fantasy Chronicle, but then found the wind beneath his wings vanish with his disappointing Fantastic Four movie just three years later, which crashed acrimoniously to earth. Now he is back with this gloomy, distinctively grandiose but very confident study of a gangster legend in terminal decline in the Florida sun, basking in his own cantankerous scorn like one of the gators in the lake he overlooks. Trank has written, directed and edited it.
Tom Hardy stars as Al Capone, referred to by his family as “Fonzo” (from his first name Alphonse). It is 1947, and he has just been released from prison after ten years, due to ill health having suffered a stroke. He is allowed to live under house arrest, bugged from afar by FBI men, and surrounded by watchful, slightly resentful family members – although his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini) seems genuinely still to care for him. He is only in his late 40s, but seems at least 20 years older than that. The film spans one year, bounded by two Thanksgiving dinners, in the course of which Capone’s own physical and mental state declines, along with his finances. His estate is progressively denuded of its furniture, expensive artworks and statues, which happens in chilling parallel with Capone’s mental befuddlement.
Capone’s eyes are as red as a vampire’s, and his voice is a growling croak, rasping out insults in English and Italian. He soils himself, which means that he staggers around his estate in dressing gown and adult nappies, like a huge and malevolent baby. And as the long slide into dementia steepens, he is visited by ghosts from the past, including an old enemy called Johnny (Matt Dillon) and gets phone calls from real people his actual family don’t know anything about. An oleaginous doctor called Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan) makes house calls, but he is secretly working for the feds, who want to know what all his glowering family and consiglieri want to know: has Capone hidden a large amount of money and just forgotten where it is?
Trank wrongfoots those who suspect that he is going to intersperse this action with regular flashbacks showing Capone in his prime – and in fact I can imagine this film being reshot and re-edited in exactly this way, although that would rob it of its strange, bitter flavour. He has Capone’s memories and hallucinations bubble up through his raddled consciousness. It’s an interesting tableau of sadness, with a hint of Paolo Sorrentino in the way the camera drifts through Capone’s sunlit gardens with all their bizarre statues, including one under dust sheets making it look like a huge, covered penis. Maybe there’s a little of Scorsese’s Shutter Island, too, in that claustrophobic hint of madness and delusion in the air, and a touch of Brando’s Corleone in Capone’s sentimental clowning around with the grandkids at the first Thanksgiving party — an exertion of which he is sadly incapable in the second.
Hardy is an entertainingly feral and angry Capone, although there is something a bit unsubtle in his eye-widening display of mute outrage when something displeases him. His most extended dialogue comes at the very beginning of the film, when he has to make a speech at the Thanksgiving dinner, and the film cleverly suggests that this sustained effort has really taken it out of the man, and sets him the downward road to physical ruin.
It’s an interesting film, which Trank tops off with a contrived finale of bizarre, spectacular (and contrived) violence, yet the woozy slipping-into-dementia-fantasy sequences, although striking, mean sometimes that the visual impact of what we are seeing is sometimes lessened, as we wait to see if it is really happening or not. It’s a little unfinished and anticlimactic, but atmospheric. Hardy has a wonderful scene when Capone insists on singing along to the Cowardly Lion’s If I Were King of the Forest from The Wizard of Oz. Capone himself is a lonely, mangy lion.
Source: The Guardian