1981 / Best Actor / Best Actress / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #357: Atlantic City (1981)

It’s fair to say that the last couple of entries have dealt with films focusing on fairly heavy subjects from war to more war and a little bit of missionary work thrown in for good measure. Sitting down to watch Atlantic City, which was described on Wikipedia as a romantic crime film, I was expecting a bouncy caper of sorts but I didn’t get that at all.

Instead what Louis Malle’s film gave me was a rather depressing study of old relics being demolished to make way for new innovations. That’s certainly true of the film’s primary location, an apartment block that’s due to be knocked to make way for Atlantic City’s latest casino. A long-time resident of the block is Lou Pascal, himself an old relic having been a well-renowned thief back in the day. These days Lou picks up scraps of work here and there and makes the majority of his money caring for Grace, the bed-bound widow of one of his old colleagues. Lou is also entranced by his new neighbour Sally, a wannabe croupier who has fled a loveless marriage in the hope of making it big in the world of gambling. Sally combines working at an oyster bar with croupier classes as she learns how to correctly shuffle cards. However the trouble starts when Sally’s ex-husband Dave arrives with her pregnant sister Chrissie in order to partake in a drug deal. Dave and Lou cross paths in a bar and the former convinces the latter to take part in his scheme only because he looks a lot more suave than the slovenly Dave. Although the exchange goes down without a hitch, the people who Dave stole the drugs from soon follow him to Atlantic City and murder him after he fails to return their goods. Following Dave’s murder, Sally and Lou are forced together and decide to take on the criminals together however both discover that some things don’t go down without a few hitches.

The main thing that hit me about Atlantic City was the lack of any sort of score meaning that all the scenes felt a little dry. In fact the film as a whole didn’t really have a lot going for it in the style department, which is o seeing as Atlantic City is all about gambling and crime. What the film does have going for it is John Guare’s script which really makes us care about both Sally and Lou in different ways. Guare makes us want Sally to succeed in her dream of being a croupier and rise up from the life she would’ve had had she stayed with Dave. Guare similarly makes Lou a completely believable former thief who views himself as a legend even if nobody else really views him this way. It’s these two characters who really make the film what it is and are bolstered by the fine performances from Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster. Lancaster, in his final appearance on this list, still possesses a lot of the charm that we’ve seen him display over the years. Although the years have taken their toll on Lou, Lancaster still conveys the charm that made Lou such a hit with the ladies and such a fantastic trickster. Meanwhile, Sarandon gives an earnest performance as the woman who just wants to better herself and thinks being a croupier is the way to do it. If there’s one thing that really flummoxed me it was the central relationship which seemed to exist in one scene. I really didn’t buy the romance between Lou and Sally and felt that it was a bit weird when he kept spying on her while she washed her body by the window. Whilst not a caper in the truest sense of the word, Atlantic City still has fantastically choreographed set pieces and most of what happened made sense. Despite the mild entertainment I got from Atlantic City, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed in a film that was rather dry for the most part. The film didn’t really provoke any strong emotion from me and I think this will be one of the movies on this blog that I’ll completely forget about following the post. But at least I learnt how to become a croupier just in case I may want to take that profession on one day.


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