Old 05-11-2009, 03:53 PM
Louis Malle's Atlantic City

Atlantic City (1980)

Louis Malle directed "Atlantic City" a year before what is arguably his most infamous film, "My Dinner With Andre." In one very specific way, I was reminded a lot of that while watching this. "Andre" has absolutely no plot but instead focuses a great deal on the two characters involved in the conversation while "Atlantic City" has very little plot but also has a good focus on the characters.

Dave Mathews (Robert Joy) and Chrissie (Hollis McLaren) have come to Atlantic City after Dave intercepts a drug dealer's drop. They meet up with Chrissie's sister, Sally (Susan Sarandon), who is not exactly happy to see them. Meanwhile, we get to know the two other people living in the apartment building: Lou Pascal (Burt Lancaster), who takes care of an elderly woman, Grace Pinza (Kate Reid), who lives on the floor below them. After Dave is murdered for stealing the drug dealer's drop, Lou and Sally strike up a relationship.

The only real thread of a plot running through this film involves Dave, Lou, and the drug dealers, which took up very little of the film. This was very concerning until I realized that the plot is not really the important part of this film; it's the characters that are. The relationship that forms between Lou and Sally is interesting to watch because there are certain things we know about Lou that Sally doesn't, and on top of that, Lou's past is shrouded in mystery, so even we don't know the whole story.

Burt Lancaster is marvelous in the role of Lou. He was 67 when this film was made yet still looked terrific and was still very graceful in his performance. Lou is the kind of character whose background we only get bits and pieces of. We know that he used to be big...or at least he thought he was big at one point. He claims to have known a big time gangster while in prison. When Dave approaches him about making a drug deal, he asks how Dave knew about him. Dave casually mentions that he heard Lou's name in Vegas, which immediately gets Lou's attention. He just accepts this without asking more than a question or two, as if it is natural that Dave would have heard about him in Vegas, despite the fact that he hadn't been there for about 25 years. He doesn't want people to think that he's been forgotten.

There is a scene later on when the drug dealers come looking for their stash while he is with Sally. They rip her clothes up, go through her purse, and smash her radio trying to find it. All they did to Lou was push him aside, calling him an "old man." This has a big effect on him as it leads to a big event later in the film. After having been a bookie for so long, he must have forgotten what such action was like. He has a longing to be big again.

Susan Sarandon also does a good job with her character, Sally. We know a little more about her past; how her husband Dave ran away with her sister Chrissie, which resulted in a pregnancy. She doesn't want to see either of them, but doesn't have the heart to turn her sister away. Sally's dreams are a lot more modest than Lou's. She longs to be a Black Jack dealer, first at a casino in Atlantic City, then one day she would hopefully get to somewhere big like Monte Carlo. She spends her free time learning French and fixing up a house with some friends that she hopes to live in one day.

It is no surprise that both Lancaster and Sarandon were nominated for Oscars that year. They both do a good job with their roles individually, but they also seemed to have a good chemistry when together. When the ending finally comes, the events feel natural, as if they were meant to happen this way, not because the script said it had to happen.

The only character that didn't really have any place in this story was Grace. She didn't add anything important to the story, but only seemed to be there to give Chrissie someone to talk to at random spots during the film. She does show up again at the end of the film, but it is in a capacity that just felt really oddly placed. All we really know of her past is that her husband was also murdered, which somewhat explains her relationship with Chrissie.

Overall, I can't call this a great movie, but it is a good character study with an ending that is satisfying. We come to see what kind of person Lou really is, or at least wants to be, and what he's willing to do to get there. Sally thinks she has started to know who he is, but she really doesn't. These are characters who are dreamers, trying to do the best with what they have. Unfortunately, whether they dream big or small, their circumstances won't allow either of their dreams to come true. 3/4 stars.
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