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Atlantic City

Atlantic City on DVD

Burt Lancaster lost the "Best Actor" Oscar to Henry Fonda's "On Golden Pond" performance, but he still pulls off an award-worthy performance in this Canadian/French story about an aging crook in an aging city, both of whom are in the process of rebirth.

Lancaster is Lou, who for some 40 years has hung out in the dark underbelly of Atlantic City, New Jersey, eking out a marginal living as a small time hood and numbers runner. Then, one day, the estranged husband of his neighbor Sally (Susan Sarandon, who was also nominated for an Oscar, but lost out to Katherine Hepburn's tour de force in "On Golden Pond") and her sister arrive to sell some stolen cocaine and Lou's and Sally's lives and generations become intertwined.

The story of Lou's rebirth from "washed up never-was" to a credible player in the modern underworld plays out against - and parallels - a once glamorous city fallen into disrepair that's now finding new life as a gambling Mecca. The similarities are obvious, but you're never really beaten over the head with them.

This really oversimplifies the plot, of course, but we don't want to dwell on it when you really should see Atlantic City for yourself to fully savor its flavor.

Sarandon is excellent as the small town Canadian girl dragged to the big city by her sleazy husband. She dreams of bettering herself and is working hard to do so until hubby slinks back into her life, throwing a monkeywrench into everything for which she's been striving. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, and it appears her one ray of hope turns out to be her new friendship with Lou - until she discovers that he's involved in the same criminal activities that got her husband into trouble.

Atlantic City was also nominated for Best Picture, director (Louis Malle) and screenplay (John Guare), though it didn't win any of them, thanks to the On Golden Pond and "Reds" juggernauts of that year. It might have done better in other years, since it's the type of small and arty film the Academy seems to eat up with a spoon.

Despite that backhanded compliment (we tend to distrust things the Hollywood establishment loves), we really enjoyed Atlantic City's small and intimate look into the lives of these people. If you're looking for action and adventure, look elsewhere, but if you dig a small, intelligent and richly textured work of art, this definitely deserves a look.

The DVD quality is pretty good. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and though it's excellent for the most part there are some shots/scenes that are very, very grainy. Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it's clean and clear, though unremarkable. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer.

Atlantic City, from Paramount Home Video
103 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital mono
Starring Burt Lancaster, Susan Sarandon, Kate Reid, Al Waxman
Produced by Denis Heroux
Written by John Guare, Directed by Louis Malle


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Updated May 13, 2006