Billy Bathgate Review

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A vicious mobster takes an aspiring 16-year-old under his wing.


Sixteen-year-old New Yorker Billy Bathgate (Dean), realising he "won't get to pitch for the Yankees or marry a Rockerfeller", decides that the only way to be somebody is to - hey! - go to work for big-mobster-of-the-moment Dutch Schultz (Hoffman). Billy's initiation into the underground world of 1930s organised crime really begins when he surrepticiously hops on a midnight tugboat to watch Schultz put his treacherous former hit man Bo Weinberg (Willis) into cement shoes, and then toss him over the side of the boat while his girlfriend Drew (Kidman) watches. Before his rather nasty death, however, Bo gets young Billy to pledge that he will protect Drew - which proves to be difficult when Dutch decides he'd like the headstrong girl all to himself. When Dutch has to prepare for an income tax-evasion trial, the three - plus numerous bodyguards and heavies - take up residence in a north eastern town and a love triangle emerges between naive Billy, Drew, who is posing as his nanny, and their patron Dutch.

Gangster movie clichés - prevalent in everything from Bugsy Malone to Mobsters - abound, but with Oscar-winning Kramer Vs Kramer director Benton at the helm and the superb E.L Doctorow novel as a source, this should have been a film to rival Goodfellas and The Godfather. Somewhere along the line however, and despite vibrant performances from Bruce Willis and Nicole Kidman, interest in the film wanes. The two lead performances do little to help the proceedings along, with Hoffman uncomfortable in his role as the supposedly enigmatic mobster, and Dean - who bears a striking resemblance to John Boy Walton - unable to make the rather weak character of Billy sympathetic or interesting.

Competently made and pleasant to look at, but with too little substance to carry the film to its inevitable finale.