In the heart of downtown Louisville, Kentucky there’s a famed hotel called The Seelbach with a poker room located deep within the confines, tucked away in a claustrophobic corner. It’s known simply as The Al Capone Room. On our wedding night, well past midnight, my wife and I skulked about the hotel as the floors were rattling with the sounds of thumping music and laughing guests. A fundraiser in the ballroom was raising hell through the night. We stumbled upon this obscure room while hunting down the mezzanine in which Paul Newman and Jackie Gleeson had played pool for Robert Rossen. In the Capone Room, there were two chairs, a window lined with white ruffled curtains, and a mirror stretching across the opposite wall — the mirror was purportedly used by Capone, who’d sit across from it while playing cards, to watch his own back. I sat down in one of the chairs and was seized by the quietness of the room. I could hear the clanking of the heat turning on, the vague notions of capital bleeding through the walls from downstairs, but the room itself was incredibly hushed, almost stilted in nature. There’s an immense feeling that can overcome one when sitting in that room, the feeling that royalty, personified and bonafide history, was breathing down your neck. This feeling of immensity is both startling and pacifying. One feels the power Capone held, while also experiencing a sliver of his intense paranoia. In that way, it’s relieving. Sitting in the Capone Room, you realize you are not Capone and you would never want to be Capone. I looked up, only to find myself across the room within the mirror, staring back.
I think that gets at the heart of what Josh Trank is going for here. The monstrosity of greed, collapsing into itself like a cavernous mistake, eating away at itself in an ouroboros of pain. On the one hand, I understand the negative reviews CAPONE is receiving. It teeters on the brink of being experimental and not being experimental enough. It feels too normal and straightforward and, yet, not normal or straightforward at all. Trank plays with the temporal in a disorienting way that’s both subtle and forthright, as Fonzo’s life deteriorates away. The audience is held into question as you ponder upon what’s real, what’s not real, and even if Capone is faking it all. The subjective nature of the way the narrative is told quickly escapes any notion of a bluff. We recede deep into the strange, haunting corners of Capone’s mind. Is this whole thing taking place within his psychosphere? Perhaps.
In that way, it’s like a haunted house movie set within a crumbling ether with the ghost of Tom Hardy, dressed only in a diaper and a robe, growling, grunting, defecating, drooling, and gutturally yelling his way into a stupor of lucid reality. Everyone else — Linda Cardellini as Fonzo’s wife, trying to hold things together; Matt Dillon as an old mobster friend, returning to help Fonzo with his dementia, but bringing with him eyeless demons of past violence; Noel Fisher as the suffering son; and Kyle MacLachlan as an ill-advised doctor — all help in the lifting, but it’s Hardy who’s doing the heavy stuff, smothered in Black Mass-esque make-up, scarred and barred, eating away at the screen as furiously as Capone would chomp on his cigars.
So, I see all your one-star, thumbs down recitations that you had pre-loaded before going into this thing. But, I’m sorry, I can’t just not give the film credit where credit is due. Is it perfect? Hardly. Did I love it? You bet.