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On VOD: CAPONE (2020)

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CAPONE
(US/Canada - 2020)

Written and directed by Josh Trank. Cast: Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Matt Dillon, Kyle MacLachlan, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Gino Cafarelli, Al Sapienza, Kathrine Narducci, Neal Brennan, Mason Guccione, Wayne Pere, Rose Blanco, Manuel Fajardo Jr., Josh Trank, David Wachs, Troy Warren Anderson. (R, 103 mins)

After sci-fi sleeper CHRONICLE became a surprise hit in 2012, Josh Trank was being fast-tracked for the A-list. Anointed a Next Big Thing, he was given 2015's $155 million FANTASTIC FOUR reboot and, well, things didn't work out. There were rumors of "erratic behavior" on the set, he clashed with 20th Century Fox after they ordered reshoots and then re-edited the film without his input or involvement, he trashed the studio and the movie in a quickly-deleted Twitter tirade the day before its release, the reviews were apocalyptically bad, the endless negative press prompted fans to stay away, and his efforts were rewarded with a Razzie win for Worst Director. Only one of Trank's stars--Toby Kebbell, who played Doctor Doom--publicly defended him, though Trank did claim to get a letter from Stan Lee asking if he "was OK." While FANTASTIC FOUR was in production, Trank was attached to a proposed standalone STAR WARS film but was dismissed. The excuse given was that execs wanted to "take the project in a different direction," but the decision was strongly rumored to be the result of Trank burning bridges in the FANTASTIC FOUR debacle.





Leaving franchise tentpoles behind and opting for something smaller-scale, Trank is back with CAPONE. Rather than another biopic, the film looks specifically at the last year in the life of Al Capone (1899-1947), when the legendary Prohibition-era gangster was wasting away at his Miami Beach compound. He had been released  from prison due to poor health but was still under government watch, and hobbled by syphilis and dementia eating away at his brain before a major stroke expedited the inevitable at just 48 years of age. It's not typically the focus when chronicling the feared Capone of his glory days, and it's a part of his life that's rarely been depicted onscreen, though the subject was addressed in the last few minutes of 1975's Roger Corman-produced CAPONE, with a garbled, mushmouthed Ben Gazzara in the title role. Capone is played here by Tom Hardy, under some heavy makeup and diving head-on into the character, leaving any vanity at the door in a performance that somehow manages to demonstrate fearless commitment and over-the-top self-indulgence at the same time. Playing Capone as the decaying, desiccated shell of the man he once was, Hardy most of the time looks and acts less like your standard image of Al Capone and more like Grandpa Sawyer from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There's little in the way of story--a search for an alleged $10 million that Capone stashed away at some point but can't remember where, repeat phone calls from an illegitimate son named Tony (Mason Guccione), and the possibility that Capone is exaggerating the extent of his illness, none of which are satisfactorily explored--and a lot of what happens is Capone having stream of consciousness thoughts, imagining people who aren't there, replaying past events in his life, and exhibiting nearly every bodily function imaginable.


Seriously, other than ejaculation--which I'm sure was at least discussed--Trank and Hardy cover it all. Capone spits, drools, vomits, has snot running out of his nose, pisses himself, shits the bed, and has another gassy, gurgly, audibly squishy bowel evacuation while being questioned on his back patio by an FBI agent (Jack Lowden), where he's so incoherent and lost that his attorney (played, for some reason, by CHAPPELLE'S SHOW co-creator and DAILY SHOW contributor Neal Brennan) has to answer even the most basic questions for him. If Trank and Hardy had plans of conveying any sense of dignity in Capone's cognitive and physical decline, it pretty much goes out the window when they turn yet another of his spontaneous deuce-droppings into what's basically a messier homage to the campfire scene in BLAZING SADDLES. Capone is cared for by his devoted wife Mae (Linda Cardellini, unable to do anything with the stock "long-suffering mob wife" role), their son Junior (Noel Fisher), and Capone's brother Ralphie (Al Sapienza) and sister Rosie (Kathrine Narducci), with occasional visits from his doctor (Kyle MacLachlan), who forbids cigars post-stroke and tells them to let him "smoke" carrots instead, since he won't know the difference. This leads to a climactic (dream) sequence where Capone finds a golden tommy gun and wanders around the compound grounds, chomping on a carrot and maniacally mowing down everyone while wearing nothing but an open bathrobe and an adult diaper. Matt Dillon also puts in a couple days' work in a nothing role as Johnny, a former Capone associate summoned to help take care of him, but Trank is so focused on providing Hardy with an anything goes, scatalogical showcase that he doesn't even bother to keep under wraps what should be a major twist--that Johnny is just a figment of Capone's imagination--instead giving up the ruse almost immediately after he arrives in Miami, after which Dillon makes only a couple of appearances, with Johnny exiting the film after gouging his own eyes out in another Capone hallucination.


Ultimately, CAPONE isn't really even about Al Capone. It's barely even a movie. It's go-for-broke performance art for an off-the-chain Hardy, who's been given carte blanche to indulge himself to his heart's content in what comes close (but not quite) to being 2020's version of THE FANATIC. For better or worse (mostly the latter), you can't accuse him of slacking on the job. He speaks in a guttural grunt that almost sounds like he's possessed, he gets up during a screening of THE WIZARD OF OZ and sings "If I Were King of the Forest" along with the Cowardly Lion, he has wild outbursts, contorts his face and shrieks "Assassino!" at loyal soldier Gino (Gino Cafarelli) before emphatically throwing himself on the floor, runs outside with some kids and rolls around in the mud, gets all crazy-eyed in a dream sequence where he's at a nightclub with Louis Armstrong (Troy Warren Anderson) singing "Blueberry Hill," goes on a fishing trip in drag, and shoots an alligator after it chomps on the catch he was reeling in. CAPONE was shot two years ago under the title FONZO (the nickname everyone calls Capone), and was allegedly intended to go to theaters until COVID-19 happened, or so say co-distributors Vertical Entertainment and Redbox. Really? Is that so? The pandemic forcing the closing of all the theaters is the reason why this Vertical Entertainment/Redbox title went straight to VOD? Yeah, OK. Are you sure about that?


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