It would frankly be a surprise to see a new Tom Hardy movie where the London-born actor isn’t doing a cartoonish and indecipherable voice. This motif can be easily mocked and lampooned (and frankly, it is) but the proof is in the pudding for Hardy; his wacky voices work because he throws himself entirely into his parts. His new film, Capone, where he plays a dementia-stricken Al Capone, further solidifies that the actor is an oddball genius that just doesn’t know how to dial it back, even if he perhaps should. But if you want to see Tom Hardy at perhaps his most Tom Hardy, have we got a movie for you.
In the film, Hardy’s Capone is in the final days of his life and living in a daze of reality and hallucinations. At the heart of the movie are two stories fighting for the spotlight, one where Hardy wanders the halls of his home haunted by his memories and past deeds while riddled with confusion about what’s real and what isn’t, and the other features his family and cohorts looking for a supposed hidden stash of money whose location is known only to the deranged mobster. Frankly, they both could have been their own films and by mixing them together in this ambitious drama they both can feel underdeveloped, at times.
One of these is inherently very interesting, as filmmaker Josh Trank, marking his first return behind the camera since the Fantastic Four reboot of 2015 that nearly ended his career, clearly enjoys dabbling in the bizarre setpieces he’s conceived. Hallucinatory moments weave themselves between hilarious bits, bizarre exchanges, surreal scenes, and inherently dramatic dialogue with varying success, but one thing is for sure: the overtly weird beats in the story are never dull.
As the story flips between them and the traditional moments of what is happening around Hardy’s Capone, it meanders. When the focus pulls away from him and toward others, then the movie suffers, partly because Hardy is so electric and partly because that side of the coin is just not as interesting. These moments are needed for the narrative being told, but they still feel like a different movie fighting for screen time in a film that has previously established itself as being one that wants to keep you on your toes. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of intrigue in these traditional drama beats, as Linda Cardellini plays Al’s wife Mae with a subdued rage that adds layers to the entire piece, including the scenes where she reacts to Al crapping on himself (there is more than one).
Capone looks visually striking as well in its presentation as cinematographer Peter Deming taps into his past work with David Lynch (having shot Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks: The Return), making the surrealist aspects of the film pop and glisten. Deming and Trank also appear to capture Louisiana at its most Louisiana. The haze and humidity of the swamp can be felt in its images, even when inside the Capone estate.
While Hardy is clearly channeling late-stage Marlon Brando here, it cannot be overstated that the make-up effects team hit a true home run. Though only 40 when filming the part, Hardy is almost unrecognizable playing a 48-year-old Capone. While his performance and antics as a man without his wits is clearly doing all the heavy lifting, the entire scenario and his truly insane behavior is very easy to buy for the audience, thanks to the physical deterioration we’re witnessing firsthand. Perhaps the only Academy Award that the film might find itself up for is in its make-up and hair work, but it would be a nomination well earned by the finished product.
Are you not put off by the idea of 100 minutes of Tom Hardy snorting, farting, gargling, moaning, burping, hacking, and yelling in a voice that is as indescribable as non-Euclidean geometry? Then Capone is worth a watch. Its sporadic playfulness and surrealism knows no bounds and truly makes the movie shine when it’s at the forefront, but unfortunately, the more traditional aspects of the narrative bring it all to a screeching stop just as things are starting to feel like something you haven’t seen in a mob movie. Josh Trank has constructed a very weird, but often delightfully funny movie that is one of the most ambitious releases of 2020. Not everyone will find charm or entertainment from Hardy’s downward spiral on screen, but it can’t be denied that he’s the reason this movie is worth looking at.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Capone is now available on VOD.