In Defence Of: Capone

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Josh Trank has very quickly made a name for himself within Hollywood and amongst film fans as… certainly a difficult director to predict. He flew into mainstream success with Chronicle (2012), a faux-found-footage film that made it appear as though three American teenagers had stumbled across a discovery that in turn gave them superpowers. It captured early performances from now stars Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan, and shot Trank into the spotlight in a monumental way.

Therefore, the news that he had directed the 2015 box office flop Fantastic Four (often jokingly called Fant-4-Stic, due to the poster and logo design) was genuinely quite a big deal, especially for fans of the characters in that franchise; the two Fantastic Four films from the 2000s were not exactly met with critical acclaim either. With Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan and Kata Mara starring – three actors who had at that time, and often still do, proven themselves as very strong dramatic actors – the hype was certainly warranted, even if it did follow the now inescapable trend of Marvel assigning once successful indie director to their films (this one was distributed by Fox, but produced by Marvel). Hype also built when it was revealed that Matthew Vaughn, who had directed Kick-Ass and had just released Kingsman: The Secret Service the previous year, was producing the film seeing as he was one of the few directors to make a hugely acclaimed comic-book movie outside of Marvel Studios at the time with the aforementioned Kick-Ass in 2010, and had also done very well with his X-Men work.

However, Fantastic Four flopped horribly, receiving more hate than any other comic-book movie in recent memory, and Trank became a distant memory, having experienced the same fate as many successful indie directors have due to Marvel. Trank did reveal that, somewhere, there was a director’s cut of Fantastic Four and it had had the potential to be a genuinely great film at one point, but studio interference essentially stopped him from following through with his initial vision. Trank can even still be found, every once in a while, speaking out against Marvel – notably, he once did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) after taking Xanax, and spent most of the time flipping the finger to Marvel and Fox for what happened behind the scenes on Fantastic Four.

So, when Capone (2020) was announced with THAT cast list (Tom Hardy, Kyle MacLachlan, Matt Dillon and Linda Cardellini, to name a few), people were once again caught up in the hype. A film about one of the most infamous gangsters to ever live, with such a good cast… what could go wrong? Well, according to most, pretty much everything – the film is admittedly pretty messy, but by no means does that make it worthless. Trank seems to have tasked himself with subverting the gangster genre entirely, making a point to slather Hardy in make-up (potentially a running gag, Hardy’s face can almost never be actually seen in his performances) and to put him in nappies when portraying the final year of his life.

There’s something special about going into a film expecting to see the brutality of the gangster genre in all of its shining glory, and instead following the perspective of a dying Al Capone as he struggles with dementia, brutal symptoms from syphilis that went untreated for over thirty years and the government surveying his home. It’s easy to see why people weren’t fully prepared to see Al Capone portrayed as he is here – a broken man, mentally and physically, who continues to be stripped of his classic gangster-isms. His cigar is taken and replaced by a carrot by Doctor’s orders, he defecates himself on screen twice, he is knocked out by his wife at one point, and the majority of the ‘plot’ (which is almost non-existent; it’s surprisingly observational) revolves around Capone having forgotten where he put the remains of his fortune – $10 million.

It’s an odd film, certainly, and one that can be a little hard to get your head around at first, but as a subversion of the gangster film, it borderlines on brilliant, taking all of the tropes and iconography associated with the cinematic gangster and either changing them or exaggerating them to the point that they are impossible to recognise anymore. Hardy is brilliant at selling it all physically with his performance: a man in complete ruin, a sickly shadow of what he once was as he continues to fall through his own memory. It’s odd to me that, given the success of The Father (2020) recently, this portrayal of dementia was so critically maligned – they are strikingly similar. it seems that after the critical bashing that Capone received, it was instantly as good as dead, undeservingly so.

Capone, released in 2020, is now streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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First year film student, writer (on film) and poet. I recently published my first poetry collection, Portrait of a City on Fire!

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