Often filmmakers try to cut historical monsters down to size by making fun of them and their ideas. In Capone, director Josh Trank looks at the last year in the life of the famed gangster, when he was reduced by a long-gestating case of syphilis to a grunting, incontinent invalid, and in one scene Trank flirts with the idea of turning the famous murderer, played by Tom Hardy, into a laughingstock when his doctor (Kyle MacLachlan) takes away his ever-present cigar and replaces it with a carrot, thus prompting perhaps the most monumental of all Bugs Bunny jokes. Had Trank stuck with this concept, he might have made a movie with more thematic consistency. As it is, Capone tells us little about the man and even less about his legend, which Trank expects viewers to bring with them into the theater.
As such, the movie is mostly made up of horror show hallucinations that pretend to give us some feeling for the man’s crazed mental state; and thus the movie could be about anyone. Some of the hallucinations dig up past episodes in Capone’s life but given that the narrator is unreliable to begin with we can never be sure what these episodes are supposed to represent except Trank’s fantasies about the gangster life. Meanwhile, in the nominally lucid scenes we see his long-suffering wife, Mae (Linda Cardellini), try to keep him alive in the huge Florida compound where the authorities have essentially placed him under house arrest, as well as his children doing their best to stay out of jail on their own accounts. If some scenes work, like the one where Matt Dillon, playing an old associate, comes to visit and takes Capone out for a fishing excursion, it’s because the absurdity of Capone’s jellied consciousness is made to confront something like reality, but these scenes don’t hold together from one to the next. The FBI surveillance that backdrops these scenes at least gives the movie a semblance of a through story: the feds think that Capone still has a lot of money stashed secretly and want to find out where (so does his family, for that matter), so the real joke is that Capone is so far gone in the head that he probably doesn’t even know he has money some place.
But even the humorous potential of that idea is squandered by Trank’s need to belittle Capone in the worst possible way, by making him into a childish cipher of a gangster, a cartoonish take on the old Warner Bros. crime films that Capone himself inspired, but without a sense of irony. Bugs Bunny worked for Warners, too, remember?
Opens Feb. 26 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Cine Qualite (03-3352-5645), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).
Capone home page in Japanese
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