Film Review – Atlantic City (1980)

Title – Atlantic City (1980)

Director – Louis Malle (May Fools)

Cast – Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Kate Reid

Plot – Aging small time criminal/hustler Lou Pascal (Lancaster) gets caught up in a dangerous money making scheme that involves his neighbor Sally Matthews (Sarandon) as the two lost souls try and strike it rich in Atlantic City.

“Don’t touch the suit”

Review by Eddie on 04/08/2021

One of only a select few films in cinema history too be nominated for the “big 5” categories at the Oscars (Film, Director, Screenplay, Actor and Actress), Louis Malle’s crowning achievement in his eccentric directional career is a fine showcase for screen legends Burt Lancaster and the then up and coming Susan Sarandon, as the two esteemed performers play lost souls Lou and Sally, sad characters lost in the hustle and bustle of the once thriving Atlantic City.

Having lived out an incredible life in front of the camera, Malle’s film seemed destined to allow the aging Lancaster one more chance at Oscar glory and while he ended up being beaten out on the night there’s no denying that his turn as the mysterious and complicated Lou is one of the actor’s greatest triumphs in a film that would’ve paled in insignificance had he not been as on song as he was.

Introduced to us spying on Sarandon’s casino waitress Sally late one night then getting stuck straight into some ironing and errands on behalf of Kate Reid’s elderly downstairs neighbor, Lou lives out a sad and sorry life that only finds joy when Lou recalls his supposed past glories as a low-end mobster/criminal and Lancaster’s downtrodden expressions and weathered nature fits the bill perfectly here, especially as Lou finds potential salvation and life long aims being meet when Sally’s friends arrive in town with a hustle in mind.

Striking the line between genuinely depressing and darkly comedic, Atlantic City is a hard film to completely pin down and there’s no question that its a film that is devoid of any truly likeable characters or plights but Malle and his cast strike a realistic tone and human core that lays at the foundation of the film and you can’t help but feel that this story in many ways tackles the true nature of inhabitants of a city like Atlantic City and calls to mind Nicolas Cage’s later Oscar winner Leaving Las Vegas in the way it looks at flawed people in flawed situations.

There are elements of the film that haven’t aged too well these 40 plus years on, some of Malle’s direction feels slightly lethargic and some of screenwriter John Guare’s scripting is very much of the early 80’s era but in capturing a time and place in Atlantic City (demolished buildings and all) and two great central turns, this film remains worthy of seeking out.

Final Say – 

A somber and depressing tale of life in a location that was supposed to offer light at the end of the tunnel, Atlantic City is a unique drama with some find performances as two screen legends at different stages of their careers came together to showcase their incredible skills.

3 lemons out of 5

2 responses to “Film Review – Atlantic City (1980)

  1. Sadly, I’m not so aware of the US career of Louis Malle. Of course I heard and read about “Atlantic City”, movie I have to discover, especially after reading your review.
    I recall you can add to my previous list the excellent “ascenseur pour l’échafaud” by the same Louis Malle, with Ronet, Moreau and the marvellous trumpet of Miles Davis.

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