As a script consultant, I’ve turned more than a few books into screenplays. Billy Bathgate from 1991 was a great award winning book, and most people who read the book hated the film, which was a massive flop and was apparently a pain to make.
The screenplay is credited to Tom Stoppard, who is a great script writer, but it looks like even he had problems with this one. However, the film does have some good things in it, it’s underrated and worth watching. So, what’s to like?
Firstly, it’s a sumptuously shot period gangster piece and Dustin Hoffman is good in the lead role, Bruce Willis is also good, and Stanley Tucci sticks in the mind as a dapper Lucky Luciano. Also good is Nicole Kidman, who out acts most of the men.
The lead role, Billy himself is played by Loren Dean, who looks like he belongs in a Disney movie and is one of the real problems of the film. It’s not the actors fault, he just looks miscast.
Robert Benton is in the director’s chair, and I like most of his films, especially the classic western Bad Company which I may blog about in the future.
Another thing I really like about this film is the photography by the grandmaster Nestor Almendros. It looks beautiful.
Ultimately, this is a film about a gangster on his way down, and it does have a depressing air to it, but that in itself is new. We usually see films about the rise of a crime king pin. This does it the other way around. See it, but maybe don’t read the book first…
The trailer is below…
So, 15 films to go…
Matthew Cooper has written for Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. He was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge and the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize. His first short film starred a then unknown Ewan McGregor and was picked up by Channel Four when Matthew was 19 years old. He’s been a script consultant, script writer for hire and filmmaker for hire for over 20 years.