Capone (2020), A Personal Letter To Joshua Benjamin Trank

Dear Mr. Trank,

You do not know me but I know you. For the longest time, I thought your name was spelled Tranq. Chronicle was one of the earliest films I watched that I thought was really cool when I was fourteen. That was eight years ago now. I loved the melding of Marvel film aesthetics (I was a big fan of Sam Raimi’s Spiderman at the time), with found footage. Paranormal Activity had scared the pants off of me but even then I was aware that most of the films in that format were not good, (I have to admit since then I’ve learned my lesson and seen loads of great found footage films). Now I look back at this time and I see that it might have just been a gimmick that dazzled us. It’s hard to know. I was also a fan of Max Landis’ writing which is the real driving creative force in most of the things he’s made, regrettably. Now that I know what an awful person he is I probably won’t be going back to watch Chronicle anyway. Chronicle always lacked the thing I liked about his writing in the first place, that snappy, plot-driven, character-driven, dialogue that really drew you in. 

I didn’t watch Fantastic Four, or Fant4stic, or Fant4stic Four. It’s a stylization of a title that just doesn’t work, unfortunately, but we know the way the studio screwed up this movie for you, or do we? It’s hardly as slick as Se7en but then again what is? Then again that really epitomizes the problem with a lot of your career. It’s just not good enough, is it? This question is especially pertinent to me now because, before Capone, we were all rooting for you. As a group of online film fans, we were rooting for you. We liked the look of the stranger elements of Fantastic Four. We were tired of the same old shit in blockbusters. MCU fatigue was at the highest it ever has been. There was a narrative about that you wanted to do something really interesting and bold, something Cronenbergian, something like Altered States by Ken Russell, and the studio fucked you over with lazy, money-grubbing financial interests, and they did it poorly, (which is still just self-evident to be at least partly true). It was a narrative that was romantic and in the zeitgeist, and we all bought into it. It was fun to imagine, and to root for the little guy like we all thought you were. 

Over the following months and years saner voices started to prevail. People pointed out that even the stuff that was evidently shot by you from Fantastic Four, (evident due to Kate Mara’s awful wig), was still pretty bad, and the recuts might well have just been a salvage job. It became depressingly easy to go back to Chronicle and see that without the found-footage gimmick it is a really by the numbers superhero story and a by the numbers coming of age story and a by the numbers found footage movie. The story of Josh Trank was looking like a story of a white man who got too big too quick and his fame and career got ahead of him, a familiar story, but the little man story was just more romantic. We’d seen so many similar stories like that of Gareth Evans with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. It matched what we wanted the industry to look like, depressing as it was, it meant we could all unite with the directors who we desperately wanted to be. Everyone acts like they want to be Stephen Spielberg, but really everyone kind of wants to be Charles Bukowski or Orson Welles, a visionary against the world fighting for the purity of the end product. It’s romantic. Especially white men, they really like that. White men always like a way to embrace the romanticism of oppression, (romanticism only they buy into, by the by). 


I’m going to have to talk about Capone now. 

Fucking hell. 

We all wanted this to be good. You got back on twitter in a big way, you were weird but we related. We all know what it’s like to feel like we’re losing our minds in this day and age. We wanted you to hit it out of the park. So I get my friends together over Zoom, and we start watching it… 

We’d seen the first reviews come out that day. Yes, they were negative but they were divisive, meaning that the film pleased a lot of people while disappointing others, or so it seemed from my rose-tinted vantage point. I like divisive movies if they are genuinely interesting and controversial for challenging people. I respect them. I wanted that. It sounded wild. It wasn’t. 

If it wasn’t such a bad movie Capone would be one of the most sluggish, po-faced, self-serious snoozefests of the year, nigh, the decade. It’s pretentious piffle of the highest order and I’m sorry to tell you this Mr. Trank, it’s your fault. It’s shot with all the grace of a b-grade Netflix true-crime drama, it’s edited with all the restraint of Bohemian Rhapsody and Tom Hardy puts in the worst performance of his life in an utterly undirected turn. Here’s what I think happened, Mr. Trank. You have a stellar cast here, headed by the most exciting new British talent working at the moment, Thomas Hardy, and you didn’t know what to do with him. He is the biggest star you’ve worked with so far and you just didn’t challenge him. “Oh you want to do that voice do you Mr. Hardy?” you said. The sound recordist said he couldn’t hear him and you said not to challenge Mr. Hardy, you said. I think of the scene from Barton Fink where the underling is nervous about that fact that Barton Fink hasn’t written a word and he’s shouted down by the studio head, “how dare you tell the great Barton Fink what to do?”, you shout, “kiss his toes”, you demand. Now what we’re seeing is the end of the film where Barton turns in his finished screenplay and it’s being read over by the cops. 

Thomas Hardy is meanwhile standing on set, an emperor with no clothes. 

I’ll show you the life of the mind, Mr. Trank. 

The film spends a lot of its runtime inside Al Capone’s mind, a thoroughly dull and drab place to be. There’s a reference to The Shining and the film seems to be aiming for Jacob’s Ladder, however, the film is also kind of aiming for the epic sweep of faded glory of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which does somewhat compromise its intended sense of impending doom and mortality. For a start the last few years of Jesse James’ life were actually interesting and you can say this film is a compelling look at that faded glory, and you might well think that, but I already have The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I didn’t need your film, Mr. Trank, it doesn’t seem to add anything to the conversation. It doesn’t help that most of your troubling imagery is just patently silly. I can’t take it seriously. When Tom Hardy is standing there looking like a moldy grape during its time of the month at someone being stabbed maybe 30 times in the neck with the same expression as if it was a child peeing on the carpet, looking dopey enough for 50 bored teenagers, that is silly. Mr. Trank, it’s not good enough. You take inspiration from these great classics of cinema with none of the sense of what you are actually doing or clarity of thought. Your first film was a by the numbers genre mash-up and your second was a compromised mess. What in God’s name possessed you to think that you could come back with something so ambitious when you have none of the experience behind you to back it up? After M. Night Shyamalan, (a significantly more talented director), trashed his own career, he came back with safe, reliable choices, a low budget found footage horror, a single-location thriller, then a film that rode the back of his more loved back catalog, and look, he has a career now. 

Take notes Mr. Trank. Take notes. 

The worst thing is the editing though, it’s migraine-inducing and lazy. The choices are lazy, and rushed, and ill-thought-through, and that’s all I have to say on the matter. 

My biggest question though, is why Mr. Trank? God… why? And why did I have to suffer through a film that makes Gus Van Sant at his most waffly and self-indulgent with films like Last Days and Gerry look palatable? 

This is the kind of failure that ruins careers, I am concerned for you, Mr. Trank. It’s the kind of failure that makes you examine whether the prior good work was actually good in the first place. Tom Hardy made his career playing hard men like Al Capone, and the shallow theatrics of Capone make you genuinely concerned that he was just dazzling you with show the whole time previously. In the same way Mr. Trank, this is the film that makes the niggling doubt in the back of my mind that you were ever a good director grow like a tumor because this film, more than anything else, is inept. It demonstrates no evident talent. It shows vision without cohesion, and a man fighting for his career when it’s already gone. That’s the difference Mr. Trank, Tom Hardy has a body of work to fall back on, you do not. I do hope you have a career on one hand because that romantic vision is still there, but then again I think of how tired I am that people like you can get job after job after failure after failure and continue. It’s a story of history that white men will be given chance after chance while directors like Lynne Ramsay, maybe the most talented person working as a director right now, get fired from films for being ‘difficult’. It’s a shame on the whole industry, Mr. Trank. It’s a disease, you are just a symptom.

Just tell me… why? Why did you think you could do it when nothing you have previously achieved suggested you could? Is it that same thing I mentioned earlier, the white male, the fact they always seem to think that they can? 

Answer on a postcard. 

Love, Saoirse.


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