The Atlantic City Story : ‘IFFI’ Review – A muted character-drama about understanding the aimlessness of existence
Within a few minutes, it becomes evident that director Henry Butash is greatly inspired by Terrene Malick. The shot compositions, the camera movements, and a slight existential dilemma in his characters all hearken back to his mentor’s recent works like Knight of Cups (2015) and Song to Song (2017). That said, The Atlantic City Story is an intimate character drama about two dissatisfied and disconnected people trying to find common ground in order to rejuvenate their lives.
The film opens with Jane Carver (Jessica Hecht) – a lonesome, unhappily married woman who, in a moment of utter despair, decides to leave her husband and her home on her birthday. She travels to Atlantic City with only a part of her memory telling her to do so. This aimless decision is met with a bus ticket from suburban Jersey to a suave hotel room inside a Casino. Unable to perceive how to really comprehend this spontaneous decision, she meanders through the many tables of the Casino as well as the roads of the city, only to find a kind of connection in a much younger, equally distant gambler named Arthur (Mike Faist).
Related to The Atlantic City Story – SONG TO SONG : FRUSTRATING, MADDENING AND DEEPLY BEAUTIFUL
The young man is just what Jane needs. A confidant who wouldn’t question her steps, her past, and her reasons to be here. For the moment, both of them find a home in each other’s hopeless existence. Director Henry Butash allows his silences to settle into the moment. He lets us know these two people before putting any burden on them. He is not too eager to reveal why the two of them have runoff from their homes to find some kind of meaning in this strange place. Instead, he is more interested in serving us with time hoping to rejuvenate our understanding of the aimlessness of existence.
His characters are two well-rounded individuals whose muted emotions make the suddenness in the transition of their relationship believable. Their chemistry feels grounded and palpable in spite of the narrative feeling overly familiar. Butash acknowledges his inspirations with subtle nods to Demy’s Bay of Angels and more intimate John Cassavetes movies from the late 70s. However, his style occasionally feels like it’s aping Malick’s most recent works. Much like his comrade A.J Edwards’ ‘Age Out,’ the screenplay feels like freewheeling through a late Malick saga. The aimless walking through the cityscape and intermediate cuts to orchestral music feel like they belong to some other film and not this one.
That said, The Atlantic City Story is a film that understands the underrated feeling of being lost. It understands the reason why so many people in the world don’t share or confide their sadness with the people they know. It also knows why the two people in the film need each other in this specific time of their life without judging them on moral grounds. The themes of despair, loneliness, sadness, and ultimately hopefulness is where the heart of the film lies. By picturing the film in a city that has literally been erased of its history, the director places his characters in an escapist puzzle. They can both run away from their past here but for how long? The real agenda of the film is finding that answer.
Also, Read – The Eternal Breasts  Review – A Portrayal of Female Desires and Creativity that’s Daring for its Time
Powered by two beautiful performances at its center, the film inevitably escapes most of its familiarity. The dependable and underrated Jessica Hecht shows great promise again. Her turn as Jane Carver – a middle-aged woman who is utterly clueless yet vulnerable is a thing to behold. Mike Faist, on the other hand, is incredible as the young gambling addict who just doesn’t seem to understand his instincts.
In a way, The Atlantic City Story knows that it is about two pretty cliched character arcs – thus making the overall impact on the audience feel more authentic than it should. Henry Butash’s debut film invariably becomes an understated look at the lives of people who need a second chance in their lives. It revels in the beauty of not being able to comprehend ‘What’s next?’ while also procuring a lively, unrelenting feeling that it’s all going to be okay.
“THE ATLANTIC CITY STORY” WILL HAVE ITS PREMIERE AT THE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL OF INDIA, 2021
CLICK HERE FOR OUR COMPLETE IFFI COVERAGE.
Director/Screenplay: Henry Butash
Producer : Henry Butash, Javier Gonzalez, Christian Sosa
Cast : Jessica Hecht, Mike Faist, Gary Wilmes
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, IFFI