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A film about notorious mobster Alphonse "Al" Capone might not seem like it would be an intensely personal one for a director, but that's exactly what "Capone" is for its writer/director Josh Trank.
"The reason I made this movie didn't have anything to do with my desire to make a movie about Al Capone," Trank told Oxygen.com, explaining that he was in a difficult place following the commercial failure of the 2015 blockbuster film "Fantastic Four." "Capone" is Trank's first film since "Fantastic Four."
Trank felt a certain kinship with Capone, musing about how the gangster must've felt after his release from prison, during this dark period in his life.
"It left me very confused and sad and alienated from my own sense of identity ... I was considered toxic by a large circle of people and that kind of knew me," Trank explained. "I'm just sitting outside alone by the pool chain-smoking cigarettes and wondering when I was going to run out of money ... At one point it just popped in the back of my head, thinking about Al Capone after he was released from Alcatraz ... in this unexpected way in my own life, I just felt connected."
"Capone" focuses on the last years of the mobster's life, when he was suffering from advanced dementia and a host of other medical problems stemming from neurosyphilis, as he spends time at his Florida estate, watches his valuables be auctioned off, and is confronted by his failing mind's delusions.
Trank drew on his family experience while creating his film's Capone (Tom Hardy), a man in degeneration: He spoke about a boisterous grandfather who had alleged mob ties and developed dementia later in life, who also served as inspiration for the movie.
"[It's about] an alpha with a big personality who lived such a storied life, and what deterioration of the mind can do to such a person," Trank said.
The film has factual basis, but it's not intended to be a traditional biopic. While writing the film, Trank explained he did research to make sure specific names and persons were accurate — he did note a number of other characters, like ones played by Kyle McLaughlin and Matt Dillon, were "representative of many characters" — but pushed to create a film that would be mainly reflective of the mental state of its protagonist.
"The movie itself has dementia," Trank said of the movie's structure, pointing to how the film takes place mainly from the perspective of Capone as his mind deteriorates from advanced neurosyphilis. He said he wanted to bring the movie to a "cerebral and surreal cinematic place" and not get bogged down in minute details of the day-to-day of Capone at his estate in Palm Island, Florida.
Trank also credited Hardy's work in building this portrayal of Capone.
"[The film] touches all the things that make Tom Hardy get up and go perform: to play a character in a way that is emotionally truthful and at the same time allows him to catapult himself into theatrics in his very unique and daring way," Trank said.
"We both loved the idea of challenges creatively that are either going to work beautifully or fall to the ground and fall apart ... like that's the thing that makes Tom tick, that's what makes me tick," Trank said, explaining that there was a lot of elements of the script that could be difficult and even embarrassing for an actor to do onscreen.
Ultimately, the film is about an iconic figure losing his power and sense of identity.
"For me, what I'm really interested in — for somebody who's lived their life in such a way ... they have to do so in a way that compromises their morality," Trank said. "So what happens at the end of their life?"
Vertical Entertainment released "Capone," which is available on VOD now.
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