Atlantic City (1980)

Louis Malle directs Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon and Kate Reid in this romantic neo-noir where a pensioner with dusty ties to the underworld and a self improving trainee croupier find themselves entangled in a drug deal in the derelict resort city.

Malle takes a disparate set of classic crime story background characters and promotes them to the forefront in a tale of compromise, attraction and arrogance. Lancaster is wonderful as the old numbers runner who finds himself with a score and a moll bunged into his lap. He embraces the risk and the glamour and the freedom, revitalised by the scam and the young neighbour dragged into his orbit. As Atlantic City is torn down and sanitised around them, these two dreamers live it large and go on the run. Malle isn’t solely about wish fulfilment. He’s no fairy godmother to his hustlers’ desires and audiences’ whims. As the lovers and dealers begin to disengage and get on with their lives a healthy dose of reality drops in. We love the white suited, fedora wearing gangster Lancaster easily inhabits with a movie star’s panache but know the mediocre coward of the written character is still hidden under the manners and fineries. His resigned acceptance when Sarandon abandons him with the score in her suitcase suggests dreams are for the young. If you aren’t living in your dream by the time you are grey and old, best to let the kids have them. Malle also delivers an intense chase sequence in an automated car park structure that thrills. A fine film.


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