Billy Bathgate Reviews
The first thing that becomes apparent in Billy Bathgate is how it consists of a strong film style to it which combines elements of classical gangster films, namely the costumes and setting, with other qualities derivative of modern crime films in terms of strong cinematography and lighting, making it a uniquely styled gangster movie.
And it's a well acted film too, with a talented cast giving what they can to it.
Loren Dean is good in the titular role as Billy Bathgate, and despite looking a bit old to be the 15 year old he's playing, Loren Dean conveys his character's strong sense of responsibility and understanding of stoic behaviour amidst getting involved in the world of crime merely as a means to earn a name and some money. Although the film doesn't build a strong character for him, Loren Dean brings a quality of his own to the role of Billy Bathgate. A certain implied vulnerability and simplicity that I think are appropriate and right for the role.
Although his conveying of confidence could have been better, Dustin Hoffman's performance as Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer is good. The film doesn't build him a character strong enough to powerfully portray the infamous gangster and he takes a backseat to the emphasis on Billy Bathgate himself, but Dustin Hoffman works with poor material and does above bare minimum to pass.
Bruce Willis also was rich with emotional intensity in his performance as Bo Weinberg, using tenacity and strong dramatisation to make the audience sympathise with him.
Lastly, Nicole Kidman worked strongly early on in her career, serving as the symbol of seduction into the world of crime through voice articulation, and the aforementioned nudity. Her chemistry with Loren Dean is constantly interesting, and is the main thing worth following in the story to find out what happens.
But despite the cast and style of the film, Billy Bathgate is no success.
The main problem with Billy Bathgate was how bland it is. Like, the story was supposed to be interesting, but whatever the dynamics were didn't get thoroughly covered in the script and were essentially implied in the story, much to the viewer's chagrin. The strength of the storytelling in Billy Bathgate is very vague and Robert Benton supplies no real direction to the story, leaving it without strength or any formidable storytelling initiative, rendering Billy Bathgate nothing more than a bunch of attractive people in costumes getting into senseless dramatic dynamics which seem to be relevant to the story but are actually causing the plot line to deviate away from the importance in the life of the gangster chronicled in this semi-biopic. It's approach to the story follows his protege Billy Bathgate through his various experiences but fails to give meaning to them making it a tedious form of storytelling without depth into either of the involved topics. Im assuming there was more importance in the novel, but Tom Stoppard deviated from it so far that novel writer E.L. Doctorow distanced himself from the project. It's safe to assume this is an unfaithful and failed adaptation.
Frankly, Billy Bathgate isn't much of a gangster film at all, because its more of a coming-of-age story about a young boy becoming involved in a life of crime without giving a second thought as to why or what is occurring. Essentially, Billy Bathgate isn't much more than eye candy. Big budget eye candy. And it's candy with a taste that isn't that memorable, save from Nicole Kidman's suave nudity in it. But a $48 Million film can't be saved by a naked Australian woman alone, and a loss of over $32 Million should prove that to Robert Benton. He would have had more luck if he told an interesting story, but instead he shifted all his focus into the wrong end of the barrel.
Movie dick over and out
stars Nicole Kidman, Dustin Hoffman, Loren Dean, Bruce Willis, Steven Hill, Stanley Tucci, Steve Buscemi, Billy Jaye and John Costelloe.
directed by Robert Benton.