Tom Hardy and Josh Trank have some big collective nuts in pulling off a stunt like this, but they’ve crafted a bold, original and ghoulish piece of work with Capone, aka The Man With The Golden Tommy Gun or Zombie Tom Hardy Putrefied In Florida. This is a fucking bonkers film like no other, approaching the historical character study from an angle few would dare to try but the borderline experimental process and beyond weird stylistic choices combined with Hardy’s positively extraterrestrial performance as Al Capone and references to everything from Twin Peaks to The Shining make this a winner and my favourite film of the year so far.
Most filmic chronicles of real world crime figures focus on the up and coming rise to power of any given person, it’s a safe-bet, tried and true Hollywood formula that always raises pulses. Trank diverts from that route, instead showing us Capone in the last few miles of his twilight years, slowly rotting away both physically and mentally from neurosyphilis in his drafty Florida mansion while his family looks on in exasperation. Not once in the film do we see Capone as a younger man, at the height of his power and only for one brief moment is he anything that resembles sane, delivering a peppy anecdotal barb to his granddaughter at thanksgiving dinner before passing out of coherence and into a surreal, purgatorial twilight zone of his own wrought. His loyal wife (Linda Cardellini is fantastic as always) stays by his side but is increasingly more upset by the drooling spectre her husband has become. His twitchy doctor (Kyle Maclachlan, terrific as well) grasps at straws to plug the leaks in the once sharp gangster turned ghost and Al’s old friend Johnny (Matt Dillon) appears to him on elliptical vignettes. His son (Noel Fisher) struggle with the reality of his condition and everyone is pretty much there to bear witness to the deeply troubling unravel of a once iron fisted patriarch.
Hardy’s performance must be given special note; since his inception as a minted Hollywood star his performances have gradually edged off the face of what may be considered ‘normal’ in some circles, his portrayals getting more eccentric, each new vocal character choice becoming more bizarre. He’s barely human here as Al, a shambling, defecating, mumbling, scaly, bloodshot eyed phantasm who wanders about in a delirium, haunting his own house and trapped in a horrific, kaleidoscopic nightmare of his own violent past. He shits himself (twice), chews his cigars harder than the scenery, rants and raves at nothing in particular and has now patented the ‘Tom Hardy dialect’ that consists of grunts, guttural utterances, half formed syllables and rumbly noises so odd that it’s tough to tell what sounds are being made by his vocal chords and what ones are from his voiding bowels. You’re either onboard for this very disturbing character or not, but there’s no copping out by calling it a gimmick. Capone really did die a dishevelled mess and I’m pretty sure that nothing Hardy does here is too far from the grisly truth of a soul near death, which Hollywood nearly always shies away from showing in full splendour, or squalor.
Many people are going to hate this film with a passion, and I get it. It’s very different, frequently uncomfortable to watch and oh so terminally weird. Trank plays around with distorted reality and hip hop artist El-P composes a strange, otherworldly score that places Capone in a twisted, freaky haunted house of his own mind and there’s no baseline narrative to easily return to from the madness. What I took from this was an unflinching look at how a life of crime, violence, lies and fear ultimately leads to an anticlimactic, sadly ironic, deteriorated final episode of misery. The feds are on Al’s case but he barely knows what fucking planet he’s on anymore and his poor family, relegated from collateral damage to picking up his pieces must now deal with them as well as looming destitution. Ultimately a life of crime as prolific as his leads to dead ends, demons of torment and the slow, inevitable encroach of mortality like the alligators Al screams at as they unnervingly approach from the swamps surrounding his broke-down palace. This is a spectacular film and whether or not it’s ultimately your thing, there’s no denying the craft and vision put to work here.