I'd like to spank the Academy

Atlantic City (1981)

Atlantic-CityDirected by Louis Malle

It’s interesting to me that so many movies that were considered one of the five best movies made in any given year don’t last. I don’t mean that they become dated; they just fall out of the public consciousness. I’m more of an older movie person than 90% of people my age, and I had never heard of Atlantic City before I saw the name on the list of best picture nominees. It’s not a bad movie, and the emotions and yearnings of the main characters are timeless. It makes me wonder exactly what qualities a movie has to have to become a classic that is watched from generation to generation, because apparently being a good movie with a timeless message isn’t enough.

So what’s the story? Lou is an old man who used to be a low-level mobster. Now he’s a small-time bookie who also takes care of a mobster’s bedridden widow. He watches his neighbor, Sally, through his kitchen window. Sally is a young woman who dreams of becoming a blackjack dealer in Monte Carlo. When Sally’s estranged husband shows up with a bag of drugs that he’s stolen from a dealer in Philadelphia, both Sally’s and Lou’s lives change drastically.

The Good: Burt Lancaster makes Lou very sympathetic. I pitied Lou for feeling stuck in a life he didn’t want after having had a less than glorious life. Lancaster made it completely understandable that Lou would want to have the chance at being a more notorious criminal. It’s hard to describe, but Burt Lancaster makes Lou’s decisions more realistic.

Susan Sarandon is also good as Sally, a woman who is actively doing everything she can to make her dreams come true, but who is unfortunately dragged down by her past. I really felt for her as her frustration and unhappiness mounted.

There was some interesting cinematography. My favorite shot was where Dave is running from the drug kingpin in the car lift and the kingpin’s feet slowly come into the frame. That was one of the tensest shots I have ever seen.

The Bad: I didn’t understand all of Sally’s choices. I’m sorry, but if my husband who abandoned me showed up on my doorstep with my pregnant younger sister, I wouldn’t take them in. If my sister was as young and stupid as Chrissie, I might take her in, but there’s no way the husband is coming anywhere near me. Sally was a strong person. It didn’t seem to fit with her personality to allow Dave to stay with her. Sure, if she hadn’t there wouldn’t have been a movie, but still. It didn’t fit.

The Ugly: I don’t like movies that make criminals sympathetic. I feel like my emotions are being played with. Lou is such a nice old man, and he’s so happy when he’s able to get back into crime that I was happy for him. And then I thought, “Wait. No. I’m not happy for him. He’s selling drugs. That’s not okay.”

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Burt Lancaster); best actress in a leading role (Susan Sarandon); best director; best writing, screenplay written directly for the screen.

Comments on: "Atlantic City (1981)" (2)

  1. So this is basically “Breaking Bad: 1981”?

    I, too, hate being asked to sympathize with people whose actions end up hurting others. (I mean, I don’t blanket-hate movies with criminal protagonists. Leia Organa is a criminal, after all.) But that’s why I appreciate that Breaking Bad firmly acknowledges that Walter White is a terrible person and doesn’t expect you to really root for him.


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