Billy Bathgate, released theatrically in 1991, was directed by Robert Benton and based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow. Starring in the film are: Dustin Hoffman (Dutch Schultz), Nicole Kidman (Drew Preston), Loren Dean (Billy Bathgate), Bruce Willis (Bo), Steve Buscemi (Irving), and Stanley Tucci (Lucky Luciano).
Growing up poor in the mid 1930s, young Billy Bathgate latches onto mob kingpin Dutch Schultz after a chance encounter and is determined to make something of himself in that world. Starting as his gopher, Bathgate soon moves up, due to his honesty and hard work. When pending indictments force Schultz and his close crew to the countryside in order to have a more impartial hearing, Schultz brings him along to keep tabs on Drew Preston, a recently acquired moll. However, among indictments and betrayals, Schultz's empire soon begins to crumble, leaving Bathgate exposed.
Though the film is titled Billy Bathgate, this is all Dustin Hoffman's film. We're allowed into his world through the eyes of Dean's Bathgate, a criminal voyeur who dreams of the riches the mob life could bring. Hoffman is often so overpowering as Schultz that many of the supporting cast, in particular Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi, are all but overlooked. Nicole Kidman provides nothing but eye candy for the first half of the film, though manages to develop her character some in the latter part. While there are lots of period gangster films, Billy Bathgate provides decent entertainment, due mainly to the direction and the cast.
Billy Bathgate is presented 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer fares reasonably well throughout, though contains quite a few print flaws, such as specks, marks, scratches, and spots. Some minor grain is also visible in several scenes. Colors are mostly bright with accurate flesh tones and modest blacks.
Billy Bathgate is presented in Dolby 5.1 Surround in English. The 5.1 track is firmly anchored in the front soundstage, with little in the way of discrete surrounds. The rear channels are used exclusively for the film's score and background ambience. Dialogue is clean throughout the film, though there was some hiss evident in Chapter 10. Optional captions are available in English.
Billy Bathgate is an entertaining film about the gangs of the 30s, and is certainly worth viewing for fans of gangster films or the leads, Dustin Hoffman in particular. Buena Vista's DVD, however, is a bit lacking in the presentation. With no extras and a high MSRP, Billy Bathgate makes a better rental than a purchase, though fans may find it hard to pass up.