Billy Bathgate [1991]

The oily allure of underground power is compelling. During the heyday of New York's mob scene, it was more than a mysterious, dynamic draw, it was a ticket out of poverty and stepping stone to notoriety. Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, Billy Bathgate is the story of a street-smart boy (Loren Dean) who, after a chance encounter with racketeering kingpin Dutch Schultz (Dustin Hoffman), sets out to apprentice himself to the Mafia and ride the roller-coaster life of a gangster. Central to the story development is the idea of fate and circumstance. Except for Billy, who is merely a criminal voyeur, all the characters play out the hand they were dealt, good or bad, live or die. Moving from misunderstood businessman, struggling to legitimize his line of work, to a steely, vengeful egomaniac, Dustin Hoffman gives a powerful performance. The role of Schultz is so strong, however, that Hoffman overpowers the cast, leaving some characters underdeveloped. Despite being the movie's namesake, Billy always seems a bit vacuous and leaves the audience wondering if he appreciates and values his luck. Bo Widerberg, played by Bruce Willis, is a slick gangster with a weasely demeanor and Drew Preston (Nicole Kidman), the girl to be fought over. Although Kidman's performance isn't her most memorable, she does a good job in balancing and evolving her character amid all the gunslinging and testosterone of the mob. If you're a Hoffman fan, and like gangster flicks, this movie's for you. --Jeff Leinaweaver

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