Atlantic City (1981), directed by Louis Malle and written by John Guare, shows us an old mobster of sorts who finds the beloved casinos of Atlantic City, N.J. too wholesome. Curiously, he himself, a big believer in Protecting The Women with whom he associates, is basically a coward (and not the killer he says he is). One of these women is a food-service worker, Sally, who dreams of becoming a croupier and thus desires—and here she resembles Lou, the mobster—a higher status for herself than she has ever had. It is Lou’s desire to prove he is tough enough to withstand the punks. In THIS exists something that is not too wholesome, but what small ambitions people consistently have!
Although Burt Lancaster is slightly miscast as a criminal and shows little depth, he is passable. Better are Susan Sarandon (Sally) and Kate Reid, both solid and pleb-realistic. Guare’s screenplay is unusual without being genuinely strange; it is clear-cut and faintly menacing. The film as a whole has “a lovely fizziness,” Pauline Kael said.