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Atlantic City

review by Zach B.



Rating: R

Running Time: 103 minutes

Starring: Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Michel Piccoli, Hollis McLaren, Robert Joy, Moses Znaimer

Written by: John Guare

Directed by: Louis Malle


Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (22 Scenes)

Released: May 14h, 2002



In Atlantic City, a smalltime bookie named Lou (Burt Lancaster) slightly lives in illusions, thinking of the power he once had and how he perhaps was once something big. For the past few decades, he's been the bodyguard and boyfriend of Grace (Kate Reid), who was once a beauty queen who only came to Atlantic City for a lookalike contest, and ended up staying there well after her husband's death. Lou seems a bit tired of his life and burned out from what has happened to him. But things slowly start to change and build up once he meets Sally (Susan Sarandon), a woman who is learning to be a croupier. Sally's estranged husband comes to visit her, and soon Sally and Lou meet through circumstances when her husband gets Lou to sell stolen drugs. But when he's killed, things starts to build up for the better and for the worse...

The film's screenplay is simply brilliant, and despite the little film work John Guare has done, this is his written work that was written directly for the screen, let alone his best work right up there with "Six Degrees Of Separation." This is a tough film as the plot can be a bit complex, and the characters even more so. But beyond that, the symbolisms and parallels throughout are stirring, intense and just plain brilliant. Atlantic City and the ongoings in the city itself are just a macrocosm to the events of the characters' microcosm. Every major thing and every little detail in the movie is rich and filled with absolute depth. You could believe something like the events in the film did actually happen or could happen to other people. There are uplifting senses to these characters, but with that said, there are depressions which bind them too.

The characters are all dreamers and each live in their own world, crossing that line of illusion and reality. However, when they all meet and come together through the events of the film, all of these lines cross together and become blurred. The setting of Atlantic City is perhaps the greatest symbolism of them all. The film takes place when gambling was first legalized in the city, as many locations were being torn down to make room for new casinos. Still, it's that this very city looks drab and pale in this movie and not compared to how we look at Atlantic City today - many hotels, the casinos, flashing lights, giant tourism, etc. Making comparisons between the old and new look of the city, it goes right with the film. Atlantic City is life itself. It's about tearing down the old and making room for what's new and more flavorful, even if it isn't exactly how we want it. And that my friends is what the movie is about: coming to terms with the past, looking at new possible futures and what those futures might bring.

Grace's old days as a beauty queen represents the glorious past while Sally's dreams of Monte Carlo represents dreams and aspiring to make it big. Success has been elusive for her, and to her, Monte Carlo means success. It's just little touches like that which make "Atlantic City" such a powerful and worthwhile experience for anyone who likes intelligent film and a well-crafted story.

Louis Malle, one of our best celebrated directors of all time, directed "Atlantic City." While he has directed some great French films, this still ranks as one of his best works. Malle captures the heart and soul of the script. He perfectly says what he is trying to say with this movie all while capturing the best of human emotions. Despite this being a character heavy and rather thematic drama, Malle stages some more high frenzied scenes. A little before forty minutes into the film, a great chase and death scene unravels that is riveting, beautiful staged and well maneuvered. Interesting enough, I think this scene is so effective because there is no dramatic music playing in the background. Just the sound effects of footsteps and machinery, basically. The film also never slows down and moves at the perfect pace.

The performances in "Atlantic City" are heartwrenching and also great to behold. The actors tell the story in fine fashion, and are career bests for much of the ensemble. Kate Reid is just so annoying as Grace (which is how she is meant to be played), while there is particularly strong work from Michel Piccoli, Robert Joy (a great character actor in his first feature length role) and Moses Znaimer. Still, it's the late acting legend Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon who solidify the movie. Each were nominated for Oscar®s for their portrayals as Lou and Sally, and they are at the top of their game and do marvelous jobs. Lancaster, who was one of the greatest actors of the 20th century, captures the illusions of Lou and how his life changes through chance meetings. Lancaster plays an overall decent guy who gets mixed up in many dealings. He has a nice guy quality to him and this charm as well as friendliness to him. This one of Lancaster's best roles and greatest work. Sarandon is very good too. She's emotional and endearing, and is supported by Lou's guidance. Slowly being taking under his wing, she soon finds her own strengths in the real world and in her dreams. The two share great and natural chemistry together too.

"Atlantic City" is a boisterous and often touching film that still holds up today. The film is more or less flawless in every aspect. It's basically taking some of the most talented people who ever worked in the entertainment industry, putting them together in the top of their form with an end result to be one of the best films of the 1980s... or one of the best ever made in the 20th century, for that matter.


"Atlantic City" features a pretty good 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, though it's far from reference quality. For such a classic film, it's shame that it wasn't cleaned up more. It's a little grainy, and has a good deal of specks, blemishes, scratches and assorted pieces of dirt on the print which becomes distracting now and then. Detail and shadow levels are decent, but the image is overall a bit soft and somewhat faded. Color saturation is nothing special and is a bit underwhelming at times (especially during the exterior scenes), but it holds up well enough. Fleshtones are pretty good too.


In addition to English subtitles and English closed captions, our only audio option here is an English mono track. Spread across two channels, there's not much to say about it. The sound elements don't give you something you'd expect in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but they serve their purposes. You can hear the footsteps on the broadwalk, the glasses and bottles being set on the bars, gamblers playing and the seedy music throughout (oh and a Robert Goulet number). The dialogue is in good shape and can be easily heard. Overall, for a mono mix, this more than serves its purpose and keeps the other elements in life. It's simple and fitting, and succeeds.


Just the Theatrical Trailer in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. New interviews with some of the cast would have been nice...


"Atlantic City" is a classic film that is both beautiful and sad. This is one of the late Louis Malle's best films, one of the best things ever written by John Guare and some of the best performances from the likes of Susan Sarandon and Burt Lancaster. The treatment here from Paramount is nothing special, but if you're a fan of the movie, it's worth picking up for your library.