52 of 1001 Movies: Atlantic City (1980)

Louis Malle brings a French-Canadian movie that went on to make a huge dent in the Academy Awards with it’s character-driven drama. With Burt Lancaster, and Susan Surandon to lead you have two of most notable stars in Hollywood to bring a film that is as big as it’s leads.

Lou is an older guy who has created a life in the past for himself that consist of mobs, and crime in a dwindling city that is struggling to stay alive. Sally is a woman who is still paying for the past with a loser husband that decides to bring back her pregnant sister, and his illegal problems to her apartment where she is left to be the only responsible adult. Sally believes that if she can become a successful black dealer than she can bring herself to the big time in cities like in France. She dreams of escaping the falling landscape of her own life. When she meets Lou though she finds herself intrigued, and confused about what she wants.

Atlantic City has something about you like though you can’t quite pinpoint what it is that makes this movie stand out. There isn’t nothing particularly stand out about it, but it’s the fact that this movie never goes in the direction you expect it that keeps you going back to it. You feel the lost magic of Atlantic City that it seems all the characters want to seek out in other areas again.

Burt Lancaster portrays a character with a lot of depth very well. One minute you like Lou, and the next you find him to be a creepy guy. He’s a guy who has gotten caught up in such a dream that he is still trying to seek out ways to live them out, and when he does it doesn’t prove to be all it’s cracked up to be. This makes a very cute scene between him and Grace (Kate Reid) later on in the movie. Sally isn’t a dislikable character at all. Sarandon shows how Sally’s past has made her quite emotionless, and in need of escape while also still making her feel real. You’re just hoping Sally won’t settle again when it appears she is to get where she wants. There will also be memorable scenes featuring her that includes lemons that will stick with the viewer long after.

To be honest, this movie at times did feel like a television movie. I’ve watched other movies from this time, and none of them felt like they had been made for television, but there was something about the way this was shot that just felt like it could have been smoother at times. The director does manage to capture you from the beginning by showing us two people traveling, and you instantly want to know where there going despite the rough start of shooting the scenes. Again, it’s the story of the people in the movie that is really what makes it a classic.

Atlantic City was an unexpected surprise. The only thing you’ll be conflicted at by the end is whether it’s a favorite, or a likable film. There is something about it that sticks with you, and that is why you begin to realize how much you like it. It may even somehow make you want to visit Atlantic City. Though it doesn’t seem like  magical city, when you are walking on the boardwalk for almost the entire movie you sort of want to also.

Rating 4 of 5.

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