by Rob DiCristino
The image of Al Capone looms large over cinematic history, most notably Robert De Niro’s turn as the notorious gangster in Brian De Palma’s 1987 classic, The Untouchables. Capone is at the height of his power in that film, a Chicago folk hero brandishing institutional corruption like a weapon and giddy at the very idea that Kevin Costner’s G-Man Elliot Ness could ever bring him down (Spoilers: He eventually does). For many, Capone personifies the inherent contradiction of the American Dream: We are expected to pursue our happiness through grit and ingenuity, but only within the confines of established laws and customs, many of which are designed by those who would prefer that their own power remain unimpeached. As a result, the few scrappy mavericks who had the guts to damn the man and Get Theirs — the Capones, Hoffas, and Dillingers of the world — often left legacies as celebrated as they are reviled.
You’ll know if you’re onboard with Capone within the first ten minutes or so, and those who find those opening beats off-putting or incoherent will be better served moving on to something else. Josh Trank (who writes, edits, and directs the film) is not making The Untouchables. He’s not making The Irishman, Public Enemies, or even Carlito’s Way. This is not a romantic parable about honor among thieves, nor is it a shoot-em-up gangster yarn about a neighborhood tough who goes down swinging. This is a tone piece, a character study about the pain of memory and the existential frustration of no longer trusting your own eyes. Fonso’s decomposition leaves him unable to be the chessmaster of his youth; with nothing written down (He kept all the crucial details of his operation in his head), his family cannot hope to build a financial lifeboat after his passing. Without recognizing faces, he can no longer remember which friends to keep close or which enemies to keep closer.