The list of top-tier actors who have portrayed Al Capone or characters clearly based on Capone is deep and generational, from Paul Muni to Rod Steiger, from Jason Robards to Ben Gazzara, from F. Murray Abraham to Robert De Niro.
Now we can add the name of Tom Hardy, who in “Capone” portrays the notorious and despicable Chicago mobster in one of the least examined periods of his life: ensconced in his Florida mansion, rapidly deteriorating physically and mentally, drowning in a sea of paranoia. It’s potentially fresh and unique material, but from the first scenes through the tone-deaf conclusion, “Capone” is a noxious film about a noxious man — a gruesome and grotesque viewing experience that tells us nothing new about Capone while rubbing our noses in one detestable scene after another. By the time we get to a typically overblown scene in which a diaper-wearing Capone wields a gold-plated Tommy Gun while on a shooting spree, we surrender.
You think I’m overreacting? You tell me if you want to see a movie featuring not one, not two, but three separate scenes in which the increasingly feeble Capone loses control of his bladder and/or his bowels, as various loved ones and associates recoil in horror.
“Capone” kicks off with an explainer: “The world’s most notorious gangster is sentenced to prison for income tax evasion. While there, his mental and physical health crumbles from neurosyphilis. A decade later, no longer deemed a threat, he is released to exile in Florida under government watch. This is the final year of his life.”
Hardy once again sublimates his movie-star handsomeness in the service of the character, virtually disappearing under the scar-faced makeup, thinning hair, jaundiced eyes, bent-over physique and raspy voice of Capone, who is 48 but looks about 107. Capone is holed up in his South Florida estate, an obscenely lavish property teeming with family, including his wife Mae (Linda Cardellini), his son Junior (Noel Fisher) and a gaggle of nieces and nephews and grandchildren; a few of his loyal lieutenants from back in his blood-spattered heyday; at least a half-dozen armed security guards, and a staff of gardeners and handymen who tend to the property and eventually assist with the packing up of the statuary and most of the artwork and furniture, which have to be sold off in order for “Fonzo,” as everyone calls him, to remain living in the enormous, seemingly haunted house.
The feds have bugged the house and are keeping watch from across the waterfront. Or is their presence just another of Fonzo’s paranoid delusions? After all, when Capone isn’t slumped over in a chair, half-cigar dangling from mouth, all but passed out, he’s flying into unprompted tantrums at the family, literally falling over from rage, or wandering about the property in a haze of madness. At one point, he enters a ballroom in the mansion and walks into a lavish New Year’s Eve party, with Louis Armstrong singing “Blueberry Hill.” A moment later, he’s climbing over a pile of slain bodies in that very same ballroom.
This is what “Capone” serves up, time and again: scenes of the title character struggling to recognize his son or an old pal who comes to visit, suffering the aforementioned bouts of incontinence, trying to remember where he stashed some $10 million, suffering a stroke that further weakens him physically and mentally. Every once in a while, Hardy gets the opportunity to flex his considerable acting muscles, e.g., a nonsensical but captivating scene in which Fonzo sings along with the Cowardly Lion as “The Wizard of Oz” plays in his home theater. As Capone’s condition worsens, Hardy looks like a walking corpse, with all the blood drained from his features and his eyes as lifeless as zombie’s. In the meantime, a subplot about Capone’s supposed illegitimate son does little to add any heart or humanity to the last days in the life of a bloodless man.
Production values are impressive. Supporting performances from Cardellini, Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan as Capone’s weirdo doctor and Matt Dillon as an old crime associate are first-rate. But it’s Hardy who dominates every moment he’s onscreen.
Too bad it’s an all-in performance in a movie that goes nowhere.