Atlantic City was another film I went into with basically no expectations, and yet the film somehow managed to match them. What I found weirdest of all was that this was directed by French director Louis Malle, responsible for Au Revoir Les Enfants and Murmur of the Heart; this is about as far removed from the idyllic coming-of-age stories of those films as you can get. Why he directed this, I don’t know; how the film even got made, I haven’t a clue. All I can say is, for a film as critically lauded as this was, I couldn’t help but feel a little let down.
Lou is an old man and former man of the streets in Atlantic City, who currently spends his days tending to similarly-elderly Grace, who belittles him at every turn, and watching his youthful neighbor Sally wash herself with lemon juice through the windows. Eventually, fate throws him and Sally together, along with a fresh direction for Lou, when Sally’s husband shows up from drifting across the country with a stolen bag of drugs, which he soon divvies up with Lou after finding someone willing to buy it. Trouble is, the drugs belong to the mob, which soon comes rushing back into Lou’s life, amid his attempts to woo Sally. I don’t know what I was expecting with Atlantic City; maybe something a little showier, more akin to Nashville, than the almost neorealist landscape and narrative in this film. I saw a review for this one that compared it favorably to Fat City, and I found the comparison spot on; this film would be very suited among all the low-level neorealist dramas that 1970s independent Hollywood produced, like Fat City. Everything seemed to be exactly as it was found by the production team; all real locations, which the characters merely inhabit over the course of the film, giving bare-bones realistic performances, and being content merely to exist rather than actively trying for greatness. Granted, Burt Lancaster was excellent in this, but that would be pretty much the only actual compliment I could give the film.
This ended up being one of the few films to be nominated for all five of the Big 5 Academy Awards: Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay, and one of the even fewer films among those to not take home a single one of those awards. Frankly, I don’t know how it even got most of those nominations; Lancaster for Actor I could see, but everything else was so middle-of-the-road that it came off as far too unremarkable enough to warrant most of the nominations it got. I didn’t hate the film, or even really dislike it, but there was nothing to it enough for me to say that I liked it all around. It’s a little disappointing that I had to wait until the last leg of my quest to watch this one, but at least I did get it out of the way.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10