Capone's timing is no coincidence. The new film hitting video on demand this week, starring Tom Hardy as the infamous gangster, marks the first film directed by Josh Trank since his 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, which was ravaged by critics and flopped at the box office. Witnessing the fallout of that film's failure interested Trank in telling the story of Al Capone's final days.
In a recent interview with Polygon, Trank finally told his side of the Fantastic Four story at length. But at the time, he was the one being fingered in press leaks as the culprit behind the flop. Reading stories about himself that interpreted events in a very different way to how he remembered them playing out, Trank found himself relating to stories about the end of Capone's life when the gangster also lost the ability to distinguish between fiction and the reality of his own identity.
"I just had all this time to myself where I spent five months leading up to the release of the biggest professional disaster of my life basically reading stories featuring a person named 'Josh Trank,' this sort of mythological tale about this disaster human being causing all this trouble and doing all these things that I myself didn't remember that way," Trank tells EW. "At a certain point I started thinking about Al Capone and that time in his life after being released from Alcatraz when he was sitting alone in his backyard puffing on a cigar. I wondered what it felt like for him when he'd flip on the radio, and hear a radio play about 'Al Capone' involved in all of these instances that he didn't remember that way."
While Fantastic Four (and Trank's directorial debut Chronicle before it) focused on the messy origins of superheroes, Capone examines a legendary figure at the end of his life, so twisted by syphilis and regret he can barely even remember how he got there. As anyone who's cared for an aging parent or grandparent knows, the experience is not always, erm, terribly cinematic. Viewers who go into Capone expecting the beats of a traditional gangster movie (rising through the ranks of exciting petty crime before falling under the weight of betrayals and arrogance) may be surprised by scenes of Hardy becoming unable to control his bowels or (perhaps even more disturbingly) singing along to The Wizard of Oz in his home movie theater.
Whether these snapshots of decline make for good cinema or not is debatable. (EW critic Leah Greenblatt did not give a positive review.) But Trank, for his part, says he was trying to puncture the aura of hero worship that feels so prevalent in American culture these days, whether it's directed at superheroes or statesmen.
"There's this idea out there that certain humans are put on this planet to do something powerful, something larger-than-life, and they're going to save all of us," Trank says. "The worst thing that we can possibly do is buy into their myths and sell the propaganda of what makes these people incredible. I really don't care about that today; I want to know what gives them diarrhea. I know that sounds gross, but I want to know: What is the most human, normal, vulnerable part of them? That's what I am trying to show, because you don't get to see that in movies. You don't read about that in biographies. But that's what fascinates me about anybody who has done anything significant in the world on any level, because these are not superheroes. Al Capone was a flesh-and-blood guy."
Legends are often built on blood, betrayal, and opportunism. Gangster movies are often built on the juxtaposition between rise and fall, come-up and glory days. Capone scrambles those equations in one particular sequence that replays some episodes from the height of its protagonist's power — but with senile old Capone inserted in the place of his younger self. What crimes, the juxtaposition asks, could possibly be justified by this demeaning twilight?
Capone hits video-on-demand platforms Tuesday.