They called him Scarface. Big Al. Public Enemy No. 1. But to his friends and family, he was, simply, Fonz.
And even that piece of him is slipping away.
By 1947, Al Capone was a shadow of who and what he’d been. Late-term neurosyphilis had whittled away his body and torn apart his mind. After 10 years in prison, the system no longer considered him Public Enemy No. 1. They didn’t even think him a threat. So they let him go—to spend the rest of his diminished life in his Florida mansion with his wife, Mae, and whatever part of the Capone clan might want to spend a few days with him. Or weeks. Or months.
But as he loses control over his future in every way possible, Fonz finds his attention pulled to the past. Ghosts are everywhere: old relationships, old hits, old sins. A boy with a gold balloon stalks the hallways and grounds.
And then there’s the money.
“I hid 10 million bucks,” he confesses to an old associate. But where is it? Fonz doesn’t know. He can’t remember.
But he must. He must. It’s all he has left. All they have. Without it, how will Mae live? How can he make amends?
But time slides quicker, quicker. The memory—all memories—fade. Perhaps this is Fonz’s last real job, to remember where he hid the money before even the memories of his family are hid forever.
Both Mae and Fonz’s main bodyguard, Gino, cross themselves before eating. Fonz seems moved by the painting of a church, depicting some mystical happening in the clouds above its roof. Later, he seems to hallucinate a visit to that same church. Someone makes a reference to Fonz receiving what he thinks is a deserved “everlasting despair in the next life.” Fonz seems obsessed with a statue of “Lady Atlas.” (Atlas was a Classical Mythic figure who, depending on the story, held up the earth or the sky.)
Fonz tells his wife that he loves her in a moment of early-movie coherency, and she tears up at the acknowledgment. But we also learn that Fonz wasn’t completely faithful to her.
Fonz apparently had a son (Tony) by another woman. And in a weird vision/flashback sequence, we see Fonz and the boy’s mother engaged in sex (or, at least, the prelude to it). She removes her slip and straddles him while still wearing her evening dress, licking his face and reaching downward as she makes very suggestive, crude remark. We see another man engaged in sex with a woman in a lengthy-but-blurry scene. (Nothing critical is shown, but we hear plenty.)
Someone talks about freezing his privates off. Fonz’s dementia is caused by syphilis, a venereal disease, that he apparently contracted before he turned 15.
As Fonz slips into deep dementia, his doctor tells Mae that perhaps she should think about getting some guys to watch him—in case he tries to hurt himself or others.
“Twenty-eight years I’ve had to wait for some peace and quiet,” she quips. “He don’t scare me.”
But even Fonz’s own brain can scare him something fierce. He suffers from several flashback/hallucinations, a couple of which are extraordinarily violent.
In one—apparently a flashback—we see a guy tied to a chair who has obviously been suffering from some mistreatment. He’s bleeding a great deal, and his face is bandaged so that he’s unidentifiable. Soon, Fonz’s bodyguard takes offense to something the man said, and the bodyguard quickly stabs him about 20 to 30 times in the neck. It’s a brutal scene, and both the now-dead victim and the bodyguard are covered in blood by the time it’s done.
Later, Fonz hallucinates a visitor who cuts both of his eyeballs out of his head and leaves them on Fonz’s chest. We don’t actually see the cutting, but we do see the eyeballs, as well as blood and gore drip from the man’s face as he performs this act of self-mutilation.
Other scenes feature massive shootouts that leave scores of people dead or dying. (Fonz crawls over bodies in one such scene.) A man wielding a Tommy gun appears to mow down several victims in a bloody rampage. A man suffers bullet wounds to the leg. The appendage is bandaged, and the man is carried out of a house. Fonz—angry that an alligator ate a fish he was reeling in—grabs a shotgun and shoots the gator, leaving a bloody corpse floating in the water. A massive wall of water pours over a man, pulling him under.
Fonz issues a number of angry threats to enemies both real and imagined. A woman slaps a man twice, knocking him down. Fonz suffers at least one stroke. (We hear about another one that he recovered from.) He chases children around his mansion, but the kids eventually tackle him in the mud, piling on him like a jungle gym. He chokes on a carrot.
We hear some radio dramas featuring Al Capone’s legendary exploits. Some of Fonz’s flashbacks are conveyed, it seems, in the form of those radio shows—narrating the action (albeit with 1940s-style drama and, according to some, inaccuracies). A bloody steak seems to bother Fonz quite a bit.
Nearly 70 f-words and about seven s-words. We also hear “b–ch,” “h—” and one abuse of Jesus’ name.
Fonz smokes a cigar almost constantly until his doctor forces him to stop. From then on, he’s forced to stick carrots in his mouth and chew on those instead. Other characters smoke cigarettes frequently.
People drink wine with dinner. Guys drink, and empty, whiskey bottles. Champagne glasses proliferate at an apparent New Year’s banquet. We hear about how Al Capone’s illegal business was built on illegal hooch.
Fonz isn’t just losing control of his mind: It’s his body, too, and we see plenty of squirm-worthy evidence of that.
While sharing an intimate conversation with his son and brother, Fonz vomits in a trashcan, after which he notices that his pants are wet, too. He marvels at the wetness until his son tells him that he lost control of his bladder. “I’ll bring you some fresh pants,” he says, as Fonz sniffs his fingers.
Later, Fonz defecates while he’s sleeping: We see the stuff smeared on his clothes and sheets as his horrified wife tries to help him out of bed. The episode necessitates adult diapers (which we sometimes see him wear), which come in handy in one more cringy, apparently smelly, scene.
As Fonz slips farther into dementia, he insults his wife (whom he doesn’t recognize) and spits in her face.
An associate tells Fonz that he smells “like a dying horse.” Fonz sneaks out of his house to go fishing while dressed in women’s clothing—an apparent bid to outwit the FBI folks he thinks are following him. (Several people in Fonz’s inner circle do indeed seem to be cooperating with law enforcement without Fonz’s knowledge.)
Looking for a sober, level-headed biographical treatment of Al Capone’s last days? Look elsewhere. Capone feels as though it’s been consuming way too much Prohibition-era hooch.
This is less a biopic and more a gory twist on Alice in Wonderland—where Capone (played compellingly by Tom Hardy) slips down the rabbit hole and plays host to his own legion of jabberwockies. The story grows curiouser and curiouser and, more importantly for our purposes, bloodier and bloodier. (Not to mention smellier.)
Bedsheets are soiled. Arteries are severed. Threads of the plot uncoil into nothing as they run to nowhere. Capone shows us the sad end to a bad man, but for no discernible purpose. At least no purpose that I can discern.
They called Al Capone Scarface, as you know. This movie leans into other, less visible scars—the old ones caused by a lifetime of violence and sin, the new ones slowly carved in the man’s body and brain. But these, perhaps, should’ve been covered by bandages. These are scars that feel too prurient to ogle.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.