Atlantic City

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

One of the most unique year of the Oscars was the year 1981. It was the first year that a Best Makeup Oscar was awarded and what made this year very distinctive was not only a wide range of different kinds of films but something that has not been done since. All of the nominees in the Best Picture category and the Best Director category had matched up. Talent like Steven Spielberg and Mark Rydell had some of their best work nominated while newcomer Hugh Hudson had the surprise sleeper of the year. In the end with everything matched up, both awards went to different people. The Best Director award went to Warren Beatty for the epic love story Reds and Best Picture went to Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire, beating out On Golden Pond and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Out of all of those, one Best Picture nominee came away empty handed. It told a simple tale with a European feel and a subtle grit as well as a screenplay that flowed like French wine. That tale all took place in a town full of many boulevards of broken dreams. That town is Atlantic City.

Sally (Susan Sarandon) lives in a world all her own. Every night she puts on opera music and soaks herself in lemons. Little does she know that she’s being viewed across the way by Lou (Burt Lancaster) an old bodyguard to a aging beauty (Kate Reid). Things get complicated when Sally’s ex-husband (Robert Joy) come into town for help and brings in her pregnant sister a mysterious package. After a short meeting with Lou, he lets him in on what’s in the package unaware that two goons are hot on the trail of what’s inside and who took it from them. This allows Lou and Sally to meet and reveal their hidden dreams and their deepest wishes.

The time when I first got familiar with this movie is seeing an ad at the tender age of six and how many times I was told that the movie wasn’t for me. I didn’t get to go back to it until a free weekend allowed me a rental seventeen years later. When I did I was glad to see something different, something simple and something wonderful.

It doesn’t glamorize the city. It shows it for what it was at that time, a city that once had luck, dreams and a lot of activity and now has become less bright, more destructive to make room for other things and with a lot of the optimism gone. There are dreams, but nothing gets fulfilled. It’s interesting to see the city from a French director’s point of view and it is quite unique for a unique Oscar year.

The nominated performances are gems that will outlive myself when it comes time for the great movies of the eighties to appear as I feel this movie belongs high up there. Susan Sarandon, in her second film with Louis Malle, plays Sally as a girl that is hopeful to hustle her way to Monte Carlo but sees those dreams crumble after her ex-husband shows up. It doesn’t happen immediately, but it does start a chain of events that make it inevitable. As Lou, Burt Lancaster gives a performance for the ages. His Lou is nostalgic for the old days of Atlantic City and his heart flies in the presence of Sally. His dream was to be a little notorious and he gets his chance, but he realizes what’s in front of him and he starts to notice the error of his loyalty.

It’s also nice to notice a movie that doesn’t need much dialogue telling a simple tale visually. A good cast and a very good director is always good for that and who better than Louis Malle. The other notable thing is the contrast in music when both of the main characters get on a hot streak. Sally has her opera, and Lou has his 40s music and somewhere in the middle of their pain and their normal life, there are songs about Atlantic City. It’s always a pleasure in any way to fit a Paul Anka song in the middle of everything.

Overall, Atlantic City is one of the many eighties classics mixing simplicity with a touch of film noir, along with one of that genre’s finest actors matched up with one of Hollywood’s rising stars at the time.

Video: How does it look?

Atlantic City is in it’s first widescreen incarnation in the 1.85:1 anamorphic form on DVD and the results are slightly better than the average transfer of an early eighties movie. Despite the hints of grain during the beginning credits, the rest of the movie has a clean look free of many blemishes and scratches. Not many speckles on this print but there are very few and the look is sharp and it makes for an impressive transfer of this film.

Audio: How does it sound?

With many movies coming out of the seventies and into the eighties, most of those had a muted soundtrack if it was not a big blockbuster so for films like this there isn’t much room for remastering, but it is not this movie. The Dolby Digital mono track is quite good with all channels getting activity in the dialogue, in the music and in the effects in the outdoor scene as well as inside the casinos of Atlantic City. It’s not along the lines of fellow nominee Raiders of the Lost Ark, but it’s not a disappointment either. A very good track. This disc also has English subtitles (surprisingly no French audio or subtitles, interesting).

Supplements: What are the extras?

The only supplements on this disc are a bright title screen, the satisfaction of a very good movie and a theatrical trailer playing up the thriller part of this film. It’s more of a character study but it makes for an interesting trailer nonetheless.

If you haven’t visited Atlantic City yet, you might want to in this form as it makes for a very good DVD despite it’s lack of extras.

Disc Scores