Based on IMDb, I'm evidently one of the few people, critics or public, who likes this movie. It's got some flaws, but on balance I think it tells an intriguing story, has a great look and features some first class performances. It also, admitedly, comes to a slow walk in the last third of the movie and only barely recovers.
Billy Bathgate (Loren Dean) is a young kid, not quite a punk, who is ambitious and wants to make money. The easiest way is to become a gangster, and he figures out a way to be noticed by Dutch Schultz (Dustin Hoffman). The movie is told from Billy's perspective, but it's dominated by Schultz's cunning, violence and loss of power. Dutch Schultz controls the numbers racket, liquor and gambling. He has judges in his pocket with bribes. He has never had anything pinned on him, but now he's facing a tax evasion rap. He moves upstate to find a friendly jury. Although he beats the rap, the prosecutors won't stop coming at him. And more and more of his fellow sharks are circling closer as they realize that one way or another Schultz is becoming history. When he loses the confidence of Lucky Lucciano, his career comes to a violent halt. Billy survives, barely.
Hoffman, in my view, gives a fine performance of a cunning, uneducated, suspicious and violent gangster. Schultz's way of dealing with a problem is to eliminate it as directly as possible. He's unpredictable; he may pat your face one minute and put a bullet through your open mouth the next. Steven Hill as Otto Berman, Schultz' long time operations manager and money man, gives an outstanding performance. Berman is getting a little old and tired, but he remains loyal to Schultz. Make no mistake; he's just as much a crook as Schultz. He develops a liking for Billy that saves Billy's life. Others who come up with compelling turns are Stanley Tucci as Luciano, as fascinating and calculating as a snake; Steve Buscemi as one of Schultz' hoods who does what he's told, Nicole Kidman as a society dame who seems to love the rough stuff and the danger and who gets in beyond her depth; Timothy Jerome as Dixie Davis, Schultz' slimy, dishonest and betraying lawyer, Bruce Willis as Bo Weinberg, Schultz's second-in-command, who makes the mistake of looking out for his own interests. Loren Dean does an okay job, in my view, as Billy. He's not a compelling actor, but neither is the character. Billy is an observer for the most part.
It's the last part of the movie that's problematic. A good deal of time is spent rather humorlessly in a small town in upstate New York as Schultz and Berman go about trying to buy their way into the town's -- and the potential jury members' -- good graces. There's a bit of bracing violence, but too much exposition. And then the extended sequence in Saratoga with Kidman and Dean, and the growing danger to Kidman, kicks in...and it just seems long.
On balance, though, I can watch this movie with pleasure...probably because of the style, the story line and Steven Hill's performance.