‘Capone’: Tom Hardy Delivers His Wildest Performance Yet as a Cross-Dressing, Diaper-Wearing Al Capone
He’s squared off against Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises” and fended off marauders in “Mad Max: Fury Road.” But you’ve never seen Tom Hardy quite like this.
The cinematic sight of 2020 (to date) occurs late in Capone, director Josh Trank’s thrillingly subjective portrait of the last year in the life of 20th-century America’s most famous gangster. Addled by neurosyphilitic dementia, 47-year-old Al Capone (Tom Hardy) struts out into the front yard of his palatial Palm Island, Florida, estate in a bathrobe and a diaper, an enormous carrot in place of a cigar in the corner of his mouth, and a gold-plated Tommy Gun in his meaty fists. His hair askew, his face scarred, and a glazed look of confusion and fury shining in his black eyes, he opens fire on his friends, family and house staff, murdering many of them in a hail of senseless bullets. As terrifying as it is hilarious, it’s a spectacle of madness unleashed, and thus the epitome of this deliriously wild and entrancing look at the final days of Chicago’s notorious kingpin.
Proof that grand villains don’t necessarily receive grand endings, Capone (debuting on VOD on May 12) is a demystification of its mythic underworld figure, here depicted by a phenomenal Hardy as an ailing giant lost inside his head. Trank’s tale picks up with Capone—here affectionately referred to as “Fonzo,” a riff on his full name “Alphonse” (and the original title of the film)—at the end of his road in 1946. Having served eight of the eleven behind-bars years he received for income tax evasion, Capone retreated to his Florida mansion, where syphilis turned his brain into veritable mush, and it’s there that the writer/director finds him, stalking the halls of his home, gripping a fire poker, in search of people concealed just out of sight. As it turns out, this initial hunt is part of a game of hide-and-seek with adolescent relatives. Yet it’s a fitting introduction to Capone, who—ravaged by disease and unsure of the boundary between fantasy and reality—suspects spies lurking around every corner, behind every tree, and on the distant banks of his backyard pond.
Capone is a story of seclusion and delusion, and immediately adopts its protagonist’s unreliable point-of-view. In his imperial home, full of Roman columns and ornate fireplaces, Capone is surrounded by those closest to him: wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), who loves and loathes him in equal measure; son Junior (Noel Fisher), who pities him; Doctor Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan), who sees little hope for his recovery; bodyguard Gino (Gino Cafarelli), who fears him; and other friends, gardeners, and movers who treat him with a mixture of respect and concern. No matter this coterie, though, Capone is alone, routinely pissing and shitting himself, and trapped inside a mind that’s constantly playing tricks on him, causing him to forget who he (and his wife) is, and producing symbolic visions of regrets, tragedies, and triumphs that bleed, bewilderingly, into the real world.
Perpetually decked out in striped or paisley robes and pajamas, a smoldering stogie wedged between his fat fingers or lips, Hardy’s Capone is a crumbling husk of a Goliath, confined to wander a sunshiny Florida residence that can’t help but feel like a prison. That hired movers are in the process of dismantling this expansive home speaks to Capone’s financial difficulties as well as to his literal and mental collapse; like the Greek statues of gods and warriors that are being prepared for departure and sale, he’s a former titan ready to be packed up and put away for good. His left jaw boasting the deep parallel lines that earned him the nickname “Scarface,” and his right cheek decorated with the permanent remnants of an apparent burn, he still faintly resembles his old self—whom he spies at one point in a mirror, decked out in a tux. But for the most part, he’s far removed from his ferocious Chicago heyday, which now plays out on radio programs that, one comes to suspect, exist only in his mind.
Caring little for rigorous historical accuracy, Trank—rebounding impressively from 2015’s Fantastic Four—turns Capone into a fictionalized descent into his protagonist’s fragmented headspace, where hallucinations of New Year’s Eve party singalongs and young boys with balloons (perhaps the same secret second son who keeps calling the house?) commingle with fishing-trip visits from old hooligan buddy Johnny (Matt Dillon). Federal agent Crawford (Jack Lowden) and his G-Men are watching everything and listening to everyone, all in the hope that they can discover where Capone hid $10 million. The problem is, Capone can’t remember where he stashed that bundle of cash—if, that is, the money is real in the first place, and not just a figment of his hopelessly convoluted imagination.
From dressing in women’s clothes in order to sneak out of the house, to furiously shooting an alligator with a rifle, to retching in a trash can and screaming madly after two freshly-removed eyeballs are placed on his reclined chest, Capone is intensely out of his mind, and Hardy embodies him with both hulking linebacker intensity and far-off disconnected frailty. It’s a performance that’s at once magnetically big and sneakily subtle, especially as Capone suffers a second stroke and loses function in one arm as well as the ability to coherently speak. That means that most of Capone’s second half is another showcase (after Mad Max: Fury Road and FX’s Taboo) for Hardy’s unrivaled gift for compelling grunting. Not that he isn’t transfixing in the film’s earlier passages; with a speaking voice that’s simultaneously gravelly and nasally—and as distinctively wacko as the accents he employed for The Dark Knight Rises and Legend—his Capone sounds borderline inhuman.
Between his performance of The Wizard of Oz’s Cowardly Lion tune “If I Were King of the Forest,” and the Bugs Bunny-esque carrots that (on doctor’s orders) soon replace his trademark cigars, Hardy’s Capone overtly flirts with the cartoonish. Yet in his deep, dark eyes, which ultimately become the crime boss’ only means of conveying longing and desire, ambition and defiance, the actor empathetically foregrounds the character’s all-too-mortal nature. Capone doesn’t take long to slide into an illusory realm where the past, present, and future collide and swirl together in stream-of-consciousness fashion. And save for a couple of minor shaky moments, Trank successfully casts the entirety of his unpredictable action as a reflection of his subject’s untrustworthy perspective.
A psychodrama of decay and death, it knocks the legendary icon down off his regal pedestal—albeit in an epically mad, magnificent manner that’s also fit for a king.