Billy Bathgate (1991)

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Released 9-Jul-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1991
Running Time 102:16
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Robert Benton
Studio
Distributor

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Dustin Hoffman
Nicole Kidman
Loren Dean
Bruce Willis
Steven Hill
Steve Buscemi
Billy Jaye
John Costelloe
Timothy Jerome
Stanley Tucci
Mike Starr
Robert F. Colesberry
Stephen Joyce
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI ? Music Mark Isham


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Finnish
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

Money. Power. Seduction. He Wanted It All.

    The 1991 mob flick Billy Bathgate has generally attracted little critical acclaim, despite having a truly stellar cast. With such A-List stars as Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman, supported by a menacing Steve Buscemi, an out-acted Bruce Willis and relative newcomer Loren Dean (Gattaca, How To Make An American Quilt), surely this film must have something going for it? Well, despite the critical apathy, it does. This may not be greatest gangster story ever told, but for me it presents an intriguing and quite novel take on the genre.

    The film itself has a solid storyline, retelling the tale of the final years of gangster Dutch Schultz (Hoffman) as his empire crumbles during the mid 1930s. The film starts as Schultz and new recruit Billy Bathgate (Dean) are onboard a boat, heading offshore from New York City. Also on board is Bo Weinberg (Willis)...complete with a tub of cement around his ankles and his high-society girlfriend Mrs Drew Preston (Kidman). She is married to a closet gay man and dates gangsters to bring a bit of love and earthy excitement into her over-privileged life. When she realises that Bo will not be her beau for much longer she soon decides that Schultz will make an adequate replacement gangster. The rest of the story unfurls as a series of flashbacks which tell us how we reached this point, before continuing on with the rest of the tale.

    Schultz is under pressure as he is about to stand trial for tax evasion. Meanwhile, sensing his collapse, his closest ally Bo Weinberg has double-crossed him - deciding it is time to jump ship. Into this tumultuous environment comes one Billy Bathgate, a young would-be hood from the Bronx. Billy impresses Schultz when he manages to trick his way into his numbers house, simply by waving a bag of money (actually cup-cakes) at the various guarded doors. Starting out with performing office duties and being a general gopher, Billy eventually manages to become a star pupil of Schultz - his "prodigy".

    As Schultz's trial approaches, he decides that he is unlikely to win any popularity competitions with a city-based jury so he moves to Upstate New York in search of more malleable jurors. Taking his entourage with him - including Billy and Drew - he finds a place in the hearts of the decent country folk. Handing out free loans to the farmers, providing prize money for local competitions and opening a huge bank account seems to do the trick quite nicely. Inevitably however, life for Billy is less simple as he witnesses the more deadly side of Schultz and falls dangerously in love with Drew. Of course with Drew having witnessed Bo's murder, Schultz is advised by his most trusted advisor, Otto Berman (in an excellent performance by Steven Hill), that she cannot be trusted and really should be silenced.

    Billy Bathgate is no Godfather or Goodfellas to be sure, but it really does work as a smaller, more intimate peek inside the gangster world of 1930s New York. Hoffman's performance is solid (I had never pictured him as intimidating), Kidman carries her role well (surprisingly including a couple of full-frontal nude shots) and Dean is credible as the titular wide-eyed innocent. The set design and costumes were very well done in my view, evoking a strong 1930s feel throughout. Whilst it may not be worth a purchase, for fans of the mob genre this is most definitely worth a rental at least. For die-hard fans of Kidman or Hoffman, it would certainly not be an embarrassment to your collection. Recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The video quality of this transfer, whilst generally adequate, is never going to win any awards.

    The video is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. It has a slightly soft feel throughout, although pixelization and grain is generally minimal.

    The dark scenes show deep, solid blacks with no significant low level noise. Grain is evident in a couple of scenes (for example at 75:05) but isn't ever annoying. The shadow detail is a little lacking on occasions however, so there is sometimes a murky feel in darker scenes. Colours are generally acceptable although not overly vivid. The palette has a warm feel to it, with almost a hint of sepia creeping in. Much of the film takes place indoors, but where outdoor scenes crop up (particularly in the latter half of the movie) there is a fresher, more vibrant feel to the palette. Skins tones seemed fine at all times.

    There are no significant MPEG artefacts. There was some occasional edge enhancement present (for example around Kidman at 71:09 or at 84:17), but this was sporadic and not distracting even on a projected image. Aliasing was not noticeable on my (progressive scan) system. There is some mild telecine wobble evident in the titles and on occasion during the feature (for example during the close-up of the table at 73:29) - this will not be a source of annoyance however.

    Film artefacts are fairly frequent, both as positive and negative flecks, but they are only very mildly distracting.

    The English for the Hard of Hearing subtitles are well timed and easy to read, providing appropriate audio cues for important music and sound effects. They follow the dialogue quite closely, losing only a few minor phrases or words for the sake of brevity.

    The disc is RSDL formatted, with the very brief and well placed layer change cropping up right at a scene change at 54:01.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The overall audio transfer is technically competent, whilst not overly inspiring.

    The sole English audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 kbps. The remaining audio choice is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix also encoded at 384 kbps.

    There are no major issues with audio defects such as hiss, clicks or pops. Dialogue is almost always clear, but there is one instance where Hoffman whispers to Kidman at 68:09 where the dialogue is quite important but can only be discerned with subtitles. Audio sync was not a problem.

    The main score is credited to Mark Isham (Quiz Show, Life As A House) and it does a reasonable job. Whilst it is not particularly memorable, it does help to build the menace in the appropriate parts of the film.

    The overall audio stage is mildly enveloping, without being particularly dramatic. The front speakers deliver the dialogue cleanly and give a reasonable spread of sound across the front soundstage. The surround channels do see use, but are generally restricted to carrying the musical score and background ambience, never drawing much attention to themselves. The rainstorm around 38:40 is quite nicely done, with a fully enveloping feel.

    The subwoofer was used mainly to support the musical score and some of the gunshots but there is little of significance in the way of LFE here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are no extras present.

Menu

    The main menu is a silent and static photograph of Hoffman and Dean against a montage of New York street scenes, accompanied by a short loop of the musical score. It allows the meagre basic options of playing the movie, choosing one of a minimal ten chapter stops, or activating the subtitles and choosing the audio language.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release is a similarly bare bones affair. I would suggest buying whichever can be found more cheaply.

Summary

    Billy Bathgate is a serviceable mob flick. Whilst it doesn't add too much to the genre, it contains a better story and stronger performances than some critics would have you believe. Hoffman and Kidman both put in solid turns and Dean is perfectly credible as the kid. Recommended as a rental for fans of the genre and a possible purchase for fans of Hoffman or Kidman in particular.

    The video quality is perfectly adequate, but unremarkable.

    The audio transfer is nothing special, but does its job.

    Extras are absent.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Daniel O'Donoghue (You think my bio is funny? Funny how?)
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDHarmony DVD Video/Audio PAL Progressive, using Component output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR600 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensenSPX-9 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 Centre, Jensen SPX-5 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Another Benton gem - wolfgirv