In 2012, director Josh Trank made his feature film debut with Chronicle, which made creative use of the found-footage format to tell the story of three high school seniors that develop telekinetic powers. Benefiting from efficient storytelling and the casting of young, rising talent, Chronicle went on to earn ten times its budget at the box office and signaled Trank as a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. That career traction came to a screeching halt with the release of the Fantastic Four reboot in 2015, a critical flop for which he was “awarded” the Razzie for worst director, despite disowning the film due to interference from the studio. Plans for a stand-alone Star Wars film were scrapped, either because of Trank’s personal decision to pursue a project with less media profile or because problems on the set of Fantastic Four made him too much of a risk for Disney, depending on who you believe.
Now, after five years, Trank has finally returned (this time as director, writer, and editor) with Capone, a film exploring the titular gangster (Tom Hardy) in the final, dementia-ridden year of his life, walking the line between conspiracy and delusion as those around him raise questions of his having potentially hidden ten million dollars before his imprisonment. As a fan of his breakout debut, I was eagerly anticipating Trank’s return to filmmaking and hoped that pairing with one of this century’s most interesting actors would bring about his return to form. Others reading this review are likely in that same camp, and to the expectant among you, know that I share your disappointment at being among the many bearers of bad news about Capone. It is, despite some quality craftwork and performances, a structural misfire.
Much of the critical attention will be focused on Hardy’s performance, and rightly so— it is committed to near-cartoonish levels of decay in a way that can only be polarizing, and because the movie devotes itself to capturing that performance above all else, most experiences of Capone can be boiled down to where they fall in that divide. Counterintuitively, I have nothing against Hardy’s take on the aged gangster as a shell of his former self, and instead everything against the decision to force that character to carry an entire narrative. Even as his pitiful level of degradation makes it difficult to imagine this “Fonse” as ever dangerous, let alone a mob boss of epic proportions, Hardy leaves the smallest of sparks in his eyes to keep us guessing at what could be hiding behind them. Had he been a supporting character, he might have been allowed to be compelling.
Instead, Trank puts him at the center of his narrative and traps his movie between two unfulfillable story arcs— character study and mystery— in the process. Capone is unsatisfying as a look into the effects of decline on a person of stature, because focusing so narrowly on an already-fallen Capone essentially leaves no character to study, and the glimpses we get of how his emptiness impacts his family aren’t enough to keep us from losing interest. The conspiracy angle, when coupled by the shifts into Fonse’s somewhat surreal dreams, has the makings of a good mystery story, but Trank so severely blurs the line between truth and vision that the distinction becomes irrelevant. This inability to decide what kind of story Capone is telling is the film’s fatal flaw, drowning out whatever else it had going for it.
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