tl;dr: Al Capone is an interesting enough subject without having to make shit up.
Film review: Capone (2020), written and directed by Josh Trank
I must have heard about this film before, but since I spent January hyperfocusing on the Capones, I was thrilled to discover this film was coming to Netflix. Because I had read up about it beforehand, and seen the IMDb user reviews, I know this wasn’t going to be a gangster film – or even a historically accurate biopic, even though it tries hard to pretend to be the latter. If you know what the film is before you watch it, you’re more likely to find it tolerable. I’m sure the hyperfocus helped as well …
Basically, Capone is about the final year in the life of notorious gangster Al Capone (Tom Hardy). Or so we’re told. “Fonse” is with his family in Miami, losing his mind to the effects of long-untreated (and then mistreated) syphilis, and effectively has dementia. He’s a fraction of the scary gangland boss he once was. He’s mostly grunting and mumbling, has regressed to the mental age of a child, and is haunted by confusing memories of his old life in Chicago, and people keep wondering where he’s hidden millions of dollars in cash. He can’t remember.
If anything, it’s a film about dementia, not Al Capone, because if you’ve read anything about Al Capone, you’ll scratch your head at pretty much everything. Sure, you get to see the people you expect: his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), his brother Ralph (Al Sapienza), his son (Noel Fisher, who’s down as “Junior” rather than “Sonny”), and his Mamma Theresa (Rose Bianco, down as “Nanna” – shouldn’t it be “Nonna”?). Then there are people they’ve completely made up. Like, who’s Rosie (Kathrine Narducci) supposed to be? Ralph’s girlfriend at the time? Johnny (Matt Dillon) and Gino (Gino Cafarelli) seem to be made up as well, along with Doctor Karlock (Kyle MacLachlan).
And then there’s Tony (Mason Guccione). There’s a pretty good medical reason for why Al and Mae only had one child, but okay. Let’s throw in a bastard as well, because why not? If we’re already making shit up, what’s a little more? I’m personally of the opinion that when it comes to Al Capone, you don’t actually have to make stuff up to make it interesting – he was quite an interesting guy in real life! I would love to see a historically accurate biographical miniseries about the guy, that would be super fascinating.
I did enjoy how the aria Nessun dorma was put to good use in the soundtrack. “Nobody shall sleep”, “my secret is hidden within me” and so on. Very apt. (I watch operas now, that’s how my lockdown is going. Puccini died before finishing Turandot, so someone else completed it … which is probably why it ends on a happy note. 🙃)
Despite the historical inaccuracies, and there were many, I still found Capone interesting … of sorts. The film was well-acted, but it definitely felt longer than it was (it’s only 1h 43min), and I can definitely see why a lot of people struggled to get through it. It’s not very engaging, and you don’t really get to sympathise with any of the characters, because you don’t actually get to know any of them very well, and it’s not even a cool gangster film. It’s mostly a guy grunting while chomping on a cigar and hallucinating when he’s not busy shitting himself, and that’s not exactly riveting viewing, ya know?
2 out of 5 carrots and I stick by Boardwalk Empire for my favourite Capone portrayals.