…In relentless pursuit of all performances nominated and won!
Susan Sarandon’s first Academy Award nomination came in 1981 for her performance opposite Burt Lancaster in Louis Malle’s Atlantic City. Sarandon plays Sally Matthews, a young woman who works the oyster bar in a casino and is taking classes to become a croupier. She has dreams and aspirations of making it big one day in Monaco. Her plans are interrupted, however, by the return of her errant husband, who has run off with her sister and gotten her pregnant. Sounds pretty complicated, right? Well, add to Sally’s chaos the fact that her husband has stolen several thousands dollars worth of dope from a gang in Philadelphia and suddenly Sally finds her life turned even more upside down.
Enter her supposed savior… Sally lives in the same apartment building as Lou (Lancaster), a small-time mobster who runs deals and bets on the side for the folks in his neighborhood. He also takes care of – and romances – a rough, aging beauty queen named Grace (a surprisingly good supporting turn by Kate Reid) who lives below him. Sally’s husband ropes Lou into the drug swindling scheme, but shortly afterwards turns up dead/murdered by the men chasing him – and the stolen dope – down. Lou, feeling partial responsibility, befriends Sally and takes her under his wing, having admired her from afar through his neighboring window. Eventually, the two begin a romance of sorts and things sort of take off from there.
Honestly, this isn’t really my type of movie, and I wouldn’t watch it again, but that is just a matter of personal preference. It’s a good film. Louis Malle doesn’t shy away from depicting Atlantic City for the slightly seedy monster and less glamorous brother to Vegas that it can be. When the film was released, it was critically acclaimed and both Sarandon and Lancaster were nominated for lead Academy Awards. Sarandon provides a nice counterpoint to Lou’s toughened, hard guy exterior, and at the end, we come to realize how their relationship has allowed Sally to find her escape, while Lou is unable to flee his self-ordained fate – and quite possibly, self-made ‘fame’ of sorts – in Atlantic City. Sarandon is fresh and fun to watch, and she matches Lancaster very well on all levels, but it is really only a starter, breakthrough role for her. She was bested to the Oscar by Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond that year, but went on to garner 5 Oscar nominations, winning in 1995 for her moving performance as Sister Helen Prejean in Dead Man Walking.