Billy Bathgate is what critic Manny Farber used to call ”white elephant art” — a movie so elegantly appointed, so swelled with self-importance, and so devoid of purpose as to seem vaguely offensive. What’s especially odd is how much talent has been expended with so little impact. Robert Benton’s direction is as glossy and profound as a coffee-table book. Mark Isham’s score turns Coplandisms into cliché — and, on video, even the late Nestor Almendros’ somber camera tones look pasty. The performances are mixed, as well: Loren Dean is pallid as the title character, a street kid witnessing the last days of Prohibition-era gangster Dutch Schultz. And Bruce Willis is such an anachronistic live wire that the filmmakers kill him off early. As for the star, Dustin Hoffman’s Schultz is all fussy tics and no heart. Toward the end of the film, Steven Hill (as the Schultz gang’s weary voice of reason) tells Dean, ”You never saw the real Dutch Schultz.” It’s this movie’s failure that we never do, either. D+
Genre: Drama, Mystery and Thriller; Starring: Loren Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Nicole Kidman, Steven Hill, Bruce Willis, Frances Conroy; Director: Robert Benton; Author: Tom Stoppard; Runtime (in minutes): 106; MPAA Rating: R; Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures
Posted April 17 1992 — 12:00 AM EDT
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