I am not familiar with the work of Louise Malle. Before watching Atlantic City I had not heard the name. But a quick internet search brought into light the fact that he was a pretty respected figure in France. I have only seen this one of him and to cap it all in one word, I found it beautiful. On its surface, Atlantic City is a crime movie. But its theme transcend a single genre and wheel around the territory of Romance. Starring Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon it lead roles, it is a movie that explores the nature of its characters against the backdrop of a demolishing city. The feeling of nostalgia and retrospect is clearly in the air, so is the love for Atlantic City.
This movie is the story of a young woman named Sally Matthews (Susan Sarandon) who is not contended with where she is or what she is doing with her life. She dreams of going to Monte Carlo. She dreams big and she has put wheels into motion for her dreams to come true. She plans of being a dealer and hence find her way to Europe. She is taking classes for that. She is learning French. She wants to do something with her life. She lives in the building close to the Boardwalk, that is about to be taken down and replaced by a casino. Living in that building is also Lou (Burt Lancaster). He is a has-been numbers runner, who claims that he used to do business with people who knew people like Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. Now he likes next to Sally, looking after a battered old woman named Grace (Kate Reid). Grace shouts at him, insults him, and also demands work from him, which also includes sexual favors.
Their lives intersect when Sally’s drug dealing ex-husband Dave (Robert Joy), who ran off with Sally’s sister, Chrissie (Hollis McLaren), returns to Atlantic City on the pretext of wanting to see Sally. But in reality, he has stolen some drugs in Philadelphia and plans to sell them here to earn some money. He befriends Lou in a local bar, and enlists his help in making the drug deal. But soon the thugs from Philadelphia, whose drugs Dave took, find him and kill him. Now, Lou, with Dave’s money and drugs, sees this as a window of opportunity to grow close to Sally, the woman he spies on through his windows and is clearly drawn to her.
This is the basic impetus that drives the money and this all happens in the first 40 minutes of the movie. The rest is a beautifully crafted movie about how an old man, who wants his final days to account for something, to relive his glory days (if there ever were) and not be a worthless old man. Sally is attracted by his elegance, as she says to him in one scene, “Teach me stuff.” She sees him as a way of learning things that she would not otherwise learn from anywhere. Hence begins the tale of an old friendship. They both know they don’t belong with one another, there’s no future. They are with each other because they need each other. Sally needs the help and Lou needs to give it. Its his incessant need to be a saviour that makes him closer to Sally in the first place.
Some of the problems that the movie had were probably with the pacing. So much could have done with these characters and the plot on which it was established, but it focused more on the romantic angle and this made it lose a bit of its charisma, I guess. Acting is fine all around, with Lancaster stealing the show and Sarandon also giving a strong performance. The movie would have been pitch perfect if its third act had been a little more happening. But its not one that ruins the whole show.