City” is a pseudo-American movie in the tradition of foreign filmmakers trying
their hand on an American genre. In this case it is a Canadian production with
the French director Louis Malle at the helm. Sometimes this results in
refreshing takes on genres we thought we knew, such as Sergio Leone’s westerns,
but more often it is either a pastiche or something a bit off from trying to
add a foreign (usually European) element to the movie. “Atlantic City” falls
into this last category.
rumpled Atlantic City, worn down by decades of use and abuse, Sally (Susan
Sarandon) works in an oyster bar and trains to become a croupier. One day her
husband, Dave (Robert Joy) shows up with Sally’s sister (Hollis McLaren) in tow.
She is heavily pregnant with his child, and he has stolen dope from the mob
which he intends to sell in Atlantic City. Sally is less than pleased.
In the same
miserable building lives Lou (Burt Lancaster). He used to be a low-level gangster,
but in his dreams he was a big shot in his youth. Now he is “kept” by Grace (Kate
Reid), a former beauty queen and wife of Lou’s former boss. Not exactly a healthy
relationship. Dave meets Lou and together they sell the dope for a small fortune.
Unfortunately for Dave, the mob shows up, royally pissed, and kills Dave.
Lou has a
thing for Sally and uses a lot of the windfall to woo her, but Sally gets fired
because of her former husband and the gangsters are after both her and Lou and
so they have to get out of this pickle together.
dominant feeling in this movie is sadness. Overwhelming sadness. Atlantic City
looks horrible, a place ready to be razed. The casinos look desperate and
artificial, like a taped-on smile. Sally’s life is barely sticking together,
but fueled by the hope that as a croupier she can get out of this dump. Lou is living
a dismal and demeaning life filled with his dreams of his former glory, real or
not, seeing a kick-ass gangster life as the top of the pops. Grace, his woman,
is not much better, but adds a ton of bitterness to the mix. Dave is just a
lousy looser and Sally’s sister lives in her own world that is put together in
a different way that ours (she does not really believe in gravity…). As I mentioned,
sadness all round.
The plot is
not much different from that. Dave hopes that the big score from selling the
dope will solve his problems, but he just gets killed for the effort. Sally’s
dreams of going to Monaco gets shot down when she gets fired. Her former trainer
even tries to set her up as a prostitute. Lou gets to live his dream as a
kick-ass gangster with money and him regaining his self-respect is probably the
most positive outcome here. Desperate and sad.
Louis Malle, he did some marvelous movies (Like “Au Revoir, les Enfants”), but
here I think his European touch is just to make the actual lives of his
characters extra miserable, while their dreams are even more unreachable. A bit
like Herzog in “Stroszek”. As in exposing the fabled American Dream as
desperate and unrealistic. It also, in my opinion, suffers from production
value issues. Not on the acting side, the acting is great”, but the production
just does not feel tight enough, even a bit sloppy or cheap at times.
City” is not a complete misery feast, but not for lack of trying. It is
difficult to get it entirely bad with Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster in the
leads, but what it is aiming for is so dirty and sad that I cannot help feeling
like I need a shower after watching this.
loved “Atlantic City”. Although it did not win any awards, it was nominated in
five categories, including the four big ones. I guess that is a testament to
being successful at what it sets out to do. I am just not certain I can deal
with that much sadness.