Louis Malle’s Atlantic City is a lost classic starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon. Lancaster stars in this low key drama as an ageing gangster who gets one last shot at the big time when he befriends a trainee croupier and becomes involved in a drug deal that leads to much more than he expected.
There’s much to recommend in this 1981 film, but the main selling point is Lancaster’s performance – it’s just riveting. At the beginning of the film we meet him as the elder statesman of the slum area in which he runs numbers, taking bets and living off his reputation, whilst assisting the former Beauty Queen who lives below him. As the film unfolds we learn that Lancaster’s Lou, wasn’t the big shot gangster that everyone believes and as the film progresses, he tries to make amends for this. And it’s his excitement towards the finale that seems to shave decades of Lancaster’s age (he was 67 when the film was made), highlighting that you don’t get movie stars like this anymore. It’s a majestic performance and it’s easy to see why Lancaster was nominated for an Oscar and why he won several other awards (including a BAFTA).
Susan Sarandon delivers a fine performance (and shows some good chemistry with Lancaster) as the modern day gangster’s moll who looks up to Lancaster’s Lou in the hope that she will one day leave the states and become a first rate croupier abroad. The supporting cast also do well with John Guare’s script – most notably Robert Joy (Dr Hammerback in CSI:NY) as Sarandon’s estranged husband and low grade criminal.
The bleak cinematography and subtle score give Atlantic City a hypnotic quality and it obviously inspired Bruce Springsteen’s track of the same name from his Nebraska album – in fact lines from the song are “borrowed” from Guare’s screenplay.
A first rate crime-drama this is a thought provoking, and at times heartbreaking film. It’s recommended for Burt Lancaster’s powerhouse performance that ranges from world weary depression to child-like excitement. Atlantic City is the perfect antidote to the big budget blockbusters that are playing in your local multiplex.