film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Atlantic City 1980 * * Stars


1980's Atlantic City is somewhat meh as a drama set to our country's most famous boardwalk. The film runs 104 glint minutes, gauged as a character study but harboring character arcs that are vague and well, short-lived. The setting is evident ("America's Playground"), you see the inside of a casino, and the 40-year-plus print I took in looked darn good. So why was I so underwhelmed by the whole experience? It's simple really. Some critically acclaimed flicks just don't hold up like expected.

With Atlantic City, I was hoping for mystery, irony, table-turning, and/or Blackjack, not some straightforward drug movie involving "cut" cocaine. Basically you have a waitress (Sally played by Susan Sarandon) getting involved with a small-time hood (Burt Lancaster as Lou) as they try to fend off mobsters looking to get back their thousand dollar stash. So yeah, I see no complexity in what unfolds here because the story could've taken place in Podunk Utah (that means anywhere).  

Sarandon and Lancaster give solid performances, the locales are crisp, and the direction by Frenchman Louis Malle is mildly sublime. But who are we kidding? Atlantic City is small-scaled, brushed off, and hardly ad rem, with its plot details unfurling easily like an extra-wide webbed lawn chair. Added to that, Susan and Burt's personas don't have the most meaningful chemistry and the fact that they supposedly made love feels a little weird and unnecessary (he was in his late 60s at the time, she in her 30s). I mean they team up but not really. In the end they're just a couple of self-regarding patsies, merely looking to come away with some loot. 

All in all, helmer Malle has the events in Atlantic City play out in procedure fashion. Rather than bait the viewer and establish some heightened epiphany, he concentrates on the earned acting showcase and his sterling, Jersey muse habitat. It was just hard for me to "double down".  

Written by Jesse Burleson

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