"Atlantic City" is a character study that falls
short of expectations. While the characters are
interesting, their actions are not always credible.
The film's message is unclear as well.
Sally (Susan Sarandon) is training to become a casino
dealer, and dreams of escaping her dreary routine
to live a cultured life, perhaps in Paris.
Lou (Burt Lancaster) is an aging small-time hood,
financially dependent upon a miserly and abusive
(by choice) elderly woman (Kate Reid). Unknown to Sarandon,
Lancaster is in love with her.
Lancaster still has ambitions of becoming a big-shot.
He stumbles upon a financial windfall (a large
amount of cocaine, and a customer who badly wants it).
He promptly changes his lifestyle, living for the
moment and playing sugar daddy to Sarandon. Sarandon gladly
goes along for the ride, using Lancaster for all he can
There are some spoilers in the remainder of the
"Atlantic City" has some problems with the actions
of the main characters. We are to believe that
Sarandon poses topless at length in front of an
unshuttered window every night, and that Lancaster
is able to peep at her unseen, every night.
Sarandan's husband Dave (Robert Joy) is the lowest form of
street-life vermin. Why would she have married
him? Her stated reason is to escape Saskatchewan,
but there are better ways of doing that.
Why would she let him move in with her again?
Joy cannot sell his stolen cocaine, because he looks
like the weasel he is. But he could find another
customer, or clean up his act, rather than putting
complete trust in stranger Lancaster, who could steal the
cocaine or the money, or report him to police.
Joy is brutally murdered by hoods. I don't have
problems with the murder, but the hoods make no
effort to get Joy to reveal where the cocaine and/or
money is, a subject that they would soon be fixated
Lancaster tells the hoods that he has the cocaine and
money, ostensibly to protect Sarandon and promote
himself as a big-shot, but he has to have known the
negative consequences of this action. He is also
fond of telling everyone that he has just killed
two gangsters, which does not seem credible even
given his need for recognition.
After Lancaster shoots one of the hoods, the other
hood just stands there, waiting to be shot as well.
Reid is apparently bedridden throughout the film,
but is up and walking without problems in the final
"Atlantic City" was shot on location in New Jersey and
has a largely American cast, but is a Canadian production.
The consensus on "Atlantic City" is that it is an
outstanding character study. Since my opinion is
definitely in the minority, there is a good chance
that I have not interpreted the film correctly.
Copyright © 1999 Brian Koller