(He) ‘…lives like a king in Florida, maybe he’s crazy, maybe he’s not. All I know is that he’s a man who spends his entire life lying to everyone about everything.’ Let’s not be in any doubt, Josh Trank’s film about Al Capone has been set up to have some political resonance, and it’s not hard to work out which golfing Floridian’s shadow falls over events here. This is a story about late-period Capone after he’s been released from jail, a public figure, a family man, but with all his chlorine-washed chickens coming home to roost as he undergoes a physical and mental collapse.
So admirers of the brisk, heroic gangster movie need not apply; this is a deconstruction of perhaps the most notorious embodiment of the American dream gone wrong, and Trank spares us nothing. Those drawn in by the prospect of Peaky Blinders star Tom Hardy wielding a gold machine gun should do so in the knowledge that he does so wearing a giant incontinence diaper, and with a carrot between his teeth rather than a cigar, on the orders of his doctor (Kyle McLachlan). The mighty have fallen, and Capone is shown drooling, bleeding out of his backside and generally suffering hard through his last days; a massive mid-film stroke on a Legends of the Fall scale only lowers the stakes. Hardy is alert to the potential for comedy and pathos and throws himself into the role, which, like his celebrated performance in Bronson, teeters on the edge of parody at times.
But Capone, the movie, just about falls on the right side of the critical razor. An opening scene sees the old man in his bathrobe, searching the corridors of his mansion with a raised golf-club. The twist is that he’s not stalking some hard-bitten nemesis, but a group of children playing hide-and-seek. The same trick is reprised for a birthday party where Capone finds a performance of Blueberry Hill unfolding; the black and white balloons suggest that we’re watching syphilis-induced hallucinations. Trank’s film has edge, an unpleasant edge perhaps, but it’s keen to convey a sense of degradation; the whole enterprise smells like warmed-over excrement, and that’s a compliment to Trank’s sense of decay.
Matt Dillon and Jack Lowden both contribute brief, pin-sharp support, but Capone will be remembered for Hardy’s fearless, repellent performance as the mob-boss. The wages of sin are death, but a long, slow, bloody demise that reflects the way that Capone lived. Trank’s film may not please fans of the genre, but pushes the limits of America’s love-hate affair with the crime families of today and yesterday alike.