Atlantic City DVD review

A 1980 Louis Malle flick starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon, Jenny finds that Atlantic City doesn't quite live up to its reputation...

Louis Malle's Atlantic City


It’s a strange one, this. First released in 1980 and directed by Louis Malle (better known for a lot of French language films), it stars Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon as Lou and Sally, two people who are dreaming of success – Lou because he once had it and wants it back, and Sally because she wants to escape to Monaco.

On the face of it they seem an unlikely pairing, but events involving Sally’s estranged husband and a large pile of drugs conspire to bring them together in a relationship which not everyone will find comfortable (see below). Dave manages to steal some heroin from the Mob and gets Lou to use his old connections to sell it: but he doesn’t live long enough to see the money when he’s killed by his angry victims, and his widow is left to pick up the pieces.

Sally, who is desperate to become an expert croupier, finds herself accepting more and more in cash and kind from Lou, up to and including gangland killing. Having never really managed to be the big-time gangster he had sold himself as in the past, Lou is thrilled to finally play the role properly and swans around in a white suit, totally out of place in a city well past its prime. Although we never find out what happens to either of them, the most bizarre closing credits I have ever seen imply both of them moving on and letting Atlantic City go its own sweet way.

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The titular city is the star of the show, its history and future potential being more interesting than anything the characters have to offer. It wants to be a booming casino town but is clearly falling apart at the seams, along with most of its residents. It’s pretentious and yet obviously a failing mess at the same time, and if you have anything about you you’ll want to become Mayor and sort it out. The sight of the seafront, so full of potential and yet crumbling and wasted, is probably the saddest thing in the whole film.

There are some who will describe this as a ‘masterpiece’. I’m afraid I can’t agree, although as usual I’m probably missing something (I’ve never been very good with ‘classics’). Lancaster is excellent in one of his later roles and the screenplay is good, but Susan Sarandon drives me mad at the best of times and is particularly goggle-eyed in this. It’s also perhaps just a little too character-driven, with the chance of ratcheting up any tension waylaid by the focus on the interactions between the variously screwed-up personas. As for the above-mentioned ‘relationship’ between Lou and Sally…well, it’s one of those uncomfortable father/daughter/partner cross-overs that leads to the inevitable getting naked scene. In fact, Susan Sarandon’s breasts could have had their own line (lines?) in the credits given how much attention they get. Yawn.

I’m sorry to say that, between them, I couldn’t quite believe it all, and there were other plot avenues which would have interested me far more. Unfortunately, these aren’t even explored in the extras, which comprise…a trailer. And a poor-quality trailer at that. This really needed more. Maybe it even deserved it.

I wasn’t keen. So shoot me.

3 out of 5

Atlantic City is out now.

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3 out of 5