on June 5, 2003
Atlantic City is a film that captures the time of transition that this city went through as it reinvented itself after gambling was legalized. Burt lancaster is perfectly cast as an-old time and small time numbers runner who is hanging on the fringe of the old Atlantic City. His musings about the "good " old days are one of the highlights of this film. At one point he tells a younger drug dealing hustler "you should have seen the Atlantic Ocean back then, it was really something." as he stares wistfully into the distance.
The comparisons between old and new are extended into the characters and their tastes in everything from clothes to music. The soundtrack alternates between 40's big band and modern jazz.
The decadence of Atlantic City is captured very realistically. Robert Goulet singing a campy song to a roomful of hospital patients as a new wing donated by the casino is being dedicated, etc.
Susan Sarandon is very good as a young woman who sees her escape route in obtaining a license to deal blackjack.
The scenes with her and Lancaster are extremely well done.
The supporting cast is also very strong.A well written script and a wintery overcast ambiance adds to the overall effort.
A movie that captures a unique place during a unique time.
on October 16, 2002
1981's Atlantic City uses the New Jersey resort to effective use to show how the old is being moved out by the new. At the time Atlantic City was a fading beach resort that introduced legalized gambling in 1978 to save it from ruin. Burt Lancaster stars as Lou Pasco, an old time numbers runner who business is slowly fading away in part to the casinos, which he refers to as too wholesome. He is also the boyfriend/bodyguard for a former beauty queen from the 1940's who is now an invalid. Susan Sarandon co-stars as Sallie Matthews, an employee at a clam bar located in a casino, who dreams of going to Monte Carlo. Lou sees a naked Sallie rubbing lemons on herself (to get off the fish smell) through his apartment window into hers. Their paths cross and they come upon a package of cocaine that Sallie's estranged husband leaves behind. Looking for a last big score, Lou sells the coke, but instead of going with Sallie, stays with the beauty queen. Director Louis Malle perfectly captures the dark side of Atlantic City and Mr. Lancaster gives one of the best performances of his career and his last great one as lead actor while it is the first time Ms. Sarandon showed the skills that would make her one of the top actresses in the business. The film scored Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, Director, Actor & Actress but went home empty handed.
For whatever reasons, this film never has received the recognition and appreciation I think it deserves. It was directed by Louis Malle and stars Burt Lancaster as Lou. (In Atlantic City, first names are all you need to know about those around you.) Malle carefully develops three different story lines: Lou's long-term affair with Grace (Kate Reid), a mobster's widow; Lou's relationship with Sally (Susan Sarandon) to whom he feels both a paternal and romantic attraction; and his symbiotic relationship with Atlantic City. Both he and the city seem long past their prime. During the course of the film, Sally also becomes a widow. Credit Malle and his excellent cast as well as cinematographer Richard Ciupka for creating and then sustaining an atmosphere of deterioration and menace. Special note should also be made of John Guare's screenplay. He, Malle, Lancaster, Sarandon, and the film were all nominated for an Academy Award. (FYI, The respective winners in 1980 were Bo Goldman for Melvin and Howard, Robert Redford for Ordinary People, Robert De Niro for Raging Bull, Sissy Spacek for Coal Miner's Daughter, and Ordinary People.) Toward the end of his career, Lancaster accepted a series of roles (including this one) which enabled him to explore and reveal subtle nuances of character and personality which much earlier roles neither permitted nor required. My own opinion is that his performance as Lou is his greatest achievement as an actor.
However, in certain respects, Atlantic City itself really is the dominant character. I recall brief visits to it in the 1970s. The city then bore little resemblance to what it has since become, at least in the casino area. Of course the city then bore little resemblance, also, to the elegant seaside resort it once was 75 years earlier. My guess (only a guess) is that Malle's work in this film -- especially his establishment and enrichment of precisely appropriate tone and atmosphere -- had a significant influence on later films such as House of Games (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), Billy Bathgate (1991), Road to Perdition (2002), and The Cooler (2003). As I said, just a guess.
One final point: I think it is a disgrace that the so-called "special features" provided with the DVD version are limited to "Theatrical trailer(s)" and "Widescreen anamorphic format."
on December 22, 2003
Burt Lancaster only got better with age and this has to be one of his shining roles, as a two-bit gangster (Lou Pasco) long past his prime, unwittingly involved in what would be his final deal. Louis Malle captures Atlantic City in its decline, telling a wonderful story of misplaced souls who struggle to find their place. Susan Sarandon turns in a memorable performance Sallie Matthews, who soon becomes Lou's love interest as she washes away the smell of brine from her shoulders in one of the signature scenes in the movie.
Malle constructs an elaborate story dealing with the gangsterism of Atlantic City past and present. Lou finds himself the reluctant paramour of Grace, the widow of a former crime boss, who Lou worked for. A relationship Malle never loses sight of as he develops the relationship between Lou and Sally, taking it to its fitting conclusion.
Malle has such a fine eye for detail, which made him one of the best directors in cinema. He brings his French sense of realism to Hollywood, playing off American gangster films in the same way Truffaut did, but creating what I think are more captivating films. Atlantic City is a pearl. It is so well rounded and lustrous that one can watch this movie over and over again and be enchanted each and every time.
on June 7, 2003
As of late I have been watching the films of Louis Malle. I have watched some movies for the first time and others a second time around. What I've noticed about Malle is the way none of his films seem to have a distinctive feel to them. He seems able to direct every movie in a different style that is relatable to it's story. Each film carries it's own personal tone to it. Watch "Au Revoir Les Enfants", "My Dinner With Andre", "Damage" and this film. I don't notice any similarities in Malle's style of directing. And I guess that's a good thing.
"Atlantic City" is a film about lost hopes and dreams. The movie's most interesting character I feel is Lou (Burt Lancaster). A small time hood who remembers Atlantic City in the "old days". He claims he at one time knew all the famous gangsters. Lou is at an age in his life where he feels regret. He thinks where is his big payoff? For the past 40 years he has been Grace's (Kate Reid) bodyguard\boyfriend. And now seeks something more. He want to be one of those people who feels "important". He wants money and beautiful women around him. He wants to live it up in his old age.
The other main character is Sally (Susan Sarandon). A woman who is now on her own after he husband left her for her sister, who is now having a baby! Sally wants to become a dealer in a casino. She feels she has a lot to look forward to in the future. Things seem to be shaping up nicely for her and with enough time may get her life back on track.
What I like so much about "Atlantic City" is how Malle seems truly interested in these characters. This is one of those movies where the strenght lies not within the plot, but the people. Its the characters who make the movie because we can see ourselves in them. At one time or another I bet we have all felt a bit like Lou. I'll freely admit I have at times. We have all felt down asking ourselves when will our luck turn around. When will we hit the jackpot? For Lou it will come sooner than he thinks. But, Malle doesn't rush the movie. He lets the movie flow at its own rhythm. He really cares for these people and is willing to take the time to tell their stories. And in the end "Atlantic City" is a touching story that most people should find enjoyable.
At it's time of release "Atlantic City" was showered with awards and nominations. The movie went on to earn 5 Oscar nominations including "Best Picture". It won 7 Cesars awards, including "Best Picture" and it also won the Golden Lion award for "Best Picture". And Roger Ebert named it one of the ten best films of 1981!
I don't know if it was in some way meant as a joke or if I personally just got a kick out of this but Wallace Shawn has a brief cameo in the movie as a waiter. In a movie Malle made that same year "My Dinner With Andre" Shawn had a role in that movie. That movie was set with two people in a restaurant having dinner. This time around, Shawn is now the waiter. I don't know why but I just thought I'd mention this.
Bottom-line: One of the best films of it's year. Director Malle does a wonderful job of telling the story. The characters seem real enough where we give them our feelings. A strong touching movie.
on September 12, 2002
Europeans have always delighted in introducing America to itself. (I am thinking of de Tocqueville and Nabokov.) There is something very valuable about seeing ourselves through the eyes of others. In Atlantic City, assumptions about the American way of life, the American dream and the America reality, circa 1978, are examined through the artistry of master French film director, Louis Malle (Murmur of the Heart (1971), Pretty Baby (1978), Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), etc.)
The film begins with a shot of Sallie Matthews (Susan Sarandon at 34) at the kitchen sink of her apartment squeezing lemons and rubbing them on her arms, her neck, her face as Lou Pasco (Burt Lancaster at 68) watches unbeknownst to her from across the way, the window of his apartment looking into hers. She works at a clam bar in a casino on the boardwalk, which is why she smells like fish, which is why she is squeezing lemon on herself to get rid of the smell. She is taking classes to be a blackjack dealer. Her dream is to go to Monaco and deal blackjack in one of resort casinos and perhaps catch a glimpse of Princess Grace. She listens to French tapes and achieves...an amusing accent. He is a has-been who never was, a pathetic old numbers runner well past any dream of his prime, pretending to be a "fancy man" as he picks up a few extra bucks waiting on an invalid woman.
Enter a hippy couple with all their belongings on their backs. It turns out that he is Sallie's estranged husband, a deceitful little guy who has found a bag of cocaine that he intends to cut and sell; and she is Sallie's not too bright sister, very pregnant. They need a place to stay and have the gall to impose on her.
Both Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon were nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, as was director Louis Malle and writer John Guare for his script. But none of them won. This was the year of On Golden Pond with Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn taking the Oscars while Warren Beatty won Best Director for Reds. (Best film was Chariots of Fire with Colin Welland winning the Oscar for his original screenplay.) Nonetheless, Lancaster and Sarandon are outstanding, and they are both beautifully directed by Malle. Lancaster in particular demonstrated that at age 68 he could still fill up the screen with his sometimes larger than life presence. The familiar flamboyance and sheer physical energy that he displayed in so many films, e.g., Come Back, Little Sheba (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), The Rose Tattoo (1955), Elmer Gantry (1960), to name four of my favorites, are here properly subdued. He moves slowly and is easily winded. He is a sad, cowardly old man whom Malle, to our delight, will miraculously transform.
Sarandon's performance is also one of her best, on a par with, or even better than her work in Thelma and Louise (1991) for which she was also nominated for Best Actress and also did not win. She is an actress with "legs" (this is a pun and an allusion to an inside joke about her famous other attributes-nicely displayed in Pretty Baby--over which perhaps too much fuss has already been made!)--an actress with "legs," as in a fine wine that will only get better with age. She, like Goldie Hawn, Catherine Deneuve and a few others, have the gift of looking as good (or better) at fifty as they did at thirty.
Louis Malle films are characterized by a tolerance of human differences, a deep psychological understanding, a gentle touch and an overriding sense of humanity. Atlantic City is no exception. What Malle is aiming at here is redemption. He wants to show how this pathetic old man finds self-respect (in an ironic way) and how the clam bar waitress might be liberated. But he also wants to say something about America, and he uses Atlantic City, New Jersey--the "lungs of Philadelphia," the mafia's playground, the New Yorker's escape, a slum by the sea "saved" (actually further exploited) by the influx of legalized gambling in the seventies--as his symbol. He begins with decadence and ends with renewal and triumph, and as usual, somewhere along the way, achieves something akin to the quality of myth. Even though he emphasizes the tawdry and the commonplace: the untalented trio singing off key, the slums semi-circling the casinos where Lou sells numbers, the boarded-up buildings, the sad, tiny apartments about to be torn down, Robert Goulet as a cheap Vegas-style lounge act, etc., in the end we feel that it's not so bad after all.
I should also mention Kate Reid who played Grace, the invalid, ex-beauty queen widow of a mobster, who orders Lou about. She does a great job. Her character too will be transformed.
If the late, great Louis Malle was running the world the gross transgressors would surely get theirs and the rest of us would find forgiveness for our sins, and renewal.
on July 29, 2002
A thorough pleasure. First and foremost, *Atlantic City* is about Burt Lancaster -- a more congenial subject than most, to be sure. The movie caters to sentimental feelings toward the actor and by extension his era, and there's nothing wrong with that. Lancaster's Lou tells a new acquaintance, a scuzzy young drug-dealer, all about the Good Old Days, back when they danced the "Floogie" and the "Floy Floy". Dreamily, he says, "Atlantic City was something in those days", and adds a sublime codicil: "The Atlantic OCEAN was something in those days." But playwright John Guare makes a point of infusing Lou with a dose of cynicism that acts as a healthy balance against his Old-Man sentimental nostalgia. He gripes about the "new" Atlantic City, with its Howard Johnson casinos and gentrified new boardwalk. "Too wholesome," he says with disdain. The old, seedy Atlantic City was a better match for old, seedy Lou, who is currently a penny-ante numbers runner, operating in the poor black neighborhoods, taking 50-cent bets. He lives alone in old apartment that's on schedule for demolition. His fellow tenants include a 1940's-era beauty queen (Kate Reid, who was the epileptic grouch in *The Andromeda Strain*), now widowed, who he once served as bodyguard and still takes care of (he even walks her poodle, since she's confined by hypochondria to her room) . . . and an aspiring blackjack dealer played by Susan Sarandon. The latter turns out to be the ex-wife of the scuzzy drug-dealer, and Lou ends up enmeshed in a petty Mob underworld in which -- despite his basic decrepitude -- he stands out as a sort of old-fashioned Man of the World. His involvement with this new breed of thugs culminates in his first "hit". (Don't worry; the two hoods he offs won't be missed.) Lou, who's never really been much of a criminal, finally earns his stripes, and the joy he exhibits in the aftermath should bring a smile to anybody's face. Perhaps *Atlantic City* should be shown to potential suicides: the movie tells us with great charm and wit that life is never over till it's over, and that there's no age-limit for finding self-respect. Technically speaking, old pro Louis Malle lets the city proclaim the film's themes, those being Changing Times, Old-and-New, and Regeneration. The many shots of simultaenous demolition and construction provide the appropriate visual backdrop.
on July 5, 2002
'Atlantic City' is probably the best little film no one has seen. That's too bad, because it deserves to be remembered more than it has been during the past 20 years.
Susan Sarandon is outstanding in her portrayal of a young woman wanting to start her life over as a dealer in an Atlantic City casino. She starts out at the bottom, serving at an oyster bar, but she has hopes and dreams. (Who doesn't have in Atlantic City?)
Things could be worse and suddenly are when her ex-husband shows up with her sister, whom he's gotten pregnant. (Something you don't expect to see everyday...) What do they want? A place to stay for awhile would be nice... But the husband is really in Atlantic City to make a big drug deal. He has no connections to the Atlantic City drug bosses, so Sarandon's next door neighbor Lou (in a wonderful performance by Burt Lancaster) befriends him. The ex-husband's lack of contacts in Atlantic City and lack of knowledge of the city itself land him and everyone around him in big, big trouble.
The main theme running throughout 'Atlantic City' is change. The city was once very different, as were the characters in Malle's film. The entire story is about the inevitability of change and how it affects each of its characters. The choices these characters make and think about making lift the film to the level of a modern cinema classic. 'Atlantic City' deserves to be seen because of its great performances, expert direction, and very good writing. Watching 'Atlantic City' is like watching a good novel unfold right before your eyes. Not a flashy film, but rich in characterization, tone, and style. Not to be missed.
on April 4, 2002
Louis Malle's films often have a small theatre intimacy to them. Malle is interested in drawing real life portraits of real life characters in their real life settings. Pretty Baby was the film that immediately preceded this one and was set in 1917 New Orleans and also starred Susan Sarandon. That film was as much a study of a time and a place as it was of the characters involved & Atlantic City is similar in scope but both the portrait of the characters and their city is much more complete. In the Atlantic City of 1980 the city is past its heyday and has not yet been rebuilt. There is the past city preserved and embodied by Lancaster & there is the new Atlantic City just on the horizon represented by the wide eyed and dreaming Sarandon. Those two main characters occupy the same building but they share a space only in the most general sense as each inhabits their own version of the city. Lancaster is man who never really had a prime and has sustained himself with his lively imagination which has preserved a kind of childish readiness in him. In his real life he has always fled when things got heated up and so he has never really begun to live, and late in life a growing regret as well as his glimpses of Sarandon through her apartment window has sparked that youth into action. This time he will seize his moments and make the most of them. And he gets his opportunity. Sarandon has her sites set on self improvement. She listens to opera, teaches herself French and dreams of a future dealing cards in Monaco. Her dreams have so far come to nothing and she is just at that point where a stroke of luck could mean the difference between finally beginning to live and resigning herself to her own private and quiet desperation. Lancaster & Sarandon are magic together, and though the film is sometimes awkward like a rehearsal, that awkwardness is part of the small theatre charm. Lancaster nails every line and every scene like the master that he is, Sarandon is the novice who hits and misses but she has some immeasurable and indefinable inner quality, she virtually glows with it, that makes her infinitely watchable and when she hits she knocks you over. Lancaster dreaming of the past and Sarandon dreaming of the future,and neither occupying the present. When Lancaster finally has his moment though, and his dream is realized there is no one left to share it with, just him smiling alone. And Sarandon gets her break too and finally makes her getaway in a stolen car driving away alone into some as yet undefined future w/ drug money tucked in her pocket, she too smiling to herself, still eager to learn French. Solitary dreamers to the end despite the decay all around.
This movie along with a few others released in late 70's(Ashby's Being There) and early eighties(Lumet's Verdict) were like a last few great gasps when movies were still interested in real life and offered a genuine look at it.
on February 16, 2001
Atlantic City is one of my favorite films of all time. Usually one when makes lists of their favorite films there are many big budget blockbusters on them but not me. Atlantic City is the best movie made of its year and was vastly ignored as far as awards go. Its director, Louis Malle gives us a wonderful story of passion, lost memory and pipe dreams. Everywhere there seems to be decay, ruins, buildings being torn down, people deparate for a drug score, people holding on to the past, unable to cope with reality. John Guare wrote one of the smartest, funny, film scripts of all time, and each time I watch this gem of a film, I find more verbal riches, more warth, humanity, great and subtle humor, and surpise. Burt Lancaster, as Lou the small time hoodlum and numbers man, is a wonder to behold; how many actors have this great a performance so late in a long career and this performance ranks with his best? Susan Sarandon's performance is great also, showing beauty, tenderness, toughness, and sadness. The suppoting cast, like the great Kate Reid as the widow of "Cookie" Pinza, steal scenes left and write. When asked if Reid was a Miss America contestant Lou replies "She was more like Miss Pinball Machine." Malle directs the vilolence well but doen't overdo it-his mobsters are scary and believable but well played. The cinematography is wonderful and there is a burnished light around the locations, the buildings and the air full of the salty spray of decadence. The most beautiful scene, Lancaster watching Sarandon bathe her upper body in lemon juice is magical, as in the ritual she turns on an opera tape and is watched and coveted my an aging man. The scene is never lurid but just the opposite-sexy, bright and full of warmth,the camera going back and forth between Lancaster's eyes and his goddess getting the fish market smell where she works off and is just as stunning as the rest of the film. Rediscover this film if you have never seen it, for Louis Malle was a world class film director and I feel this is his best film in English, a complex and beautiful masterpiece no wrecking ball will ever destroy. Highly recommended.