Best Movies by Farr: Superb Susan Sarandon

September 6, 2011 | John Farr

John Farr sends a salute to the star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, the superb Susan Sarandon.

Atlantic City (1980)

Lou Pasco (Burt Lancaster) is a remnant of the old Atlantic City, a fading numbers runner who takes care of Grace (Kate Reid), the lonely, elderly widow of a mob boss. His neighbor Sally Matthews (Sarandon) is a symbol of the city’s coming revitalization with legalized gambling – a young waitress and aspiring blackjack dealer who hopes one day to work in a Monte Carlo casino. Lou comes into unexpected money via a botched drug deal, and finally gets the chance to live the dream he’d almost given up on, one that includes a new wardrobe, a wad of cash, and Sally on his arm. But will Lou’s new reality last, and will Sally make her own dreams come true?

Hypnotic film by French director Louis Malle deals with themes of decay and regeneration in both character and setting. Lou represents the past, Sally the future, with Atlantic City itself the transitional present which makes it possible for this unlikely duo to connect. Sarandon is luminous, but Lancaster’s Lou forms the movie’s heart and soul. Top-notch script by John Guare completes this winning package.

Bull Durham (1988)

Shelton’s winning romantic comedy is set in the special world of minor league baseball, exploring the dynamics (and rivalry) between two very different teammates – seasoned veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), and rookie hot-shot Nuke La Loosh (Tim Robbins). Complicating matters further is the femme fatale that comes between them: a bewitching baseball “groupie” named Annie (Susan Sarandon). Which player will take home that prize?

This wry comedy delivers irresistible entertainment, evoking the more- shall we say, informal- atmosphere of life in the minors. Star Costner is appealingly mellow, and Sarandon skillfully plays her character as sexy, funny and wise, all at once. Still, Robbins steals the movie in showy role as the dim-bulb rookie. Director Shelton was Oscar-nominated for his salty, funny script- and no wonder. Play ball!

Dead Man Walking (1995)

When Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), a Catholic nun and anti-death-penalty activist, receives a letter from Matthew Poncelet (Penn), soon to be executed for the rape and murder of two teenage girls, she resolves to pay him a visit. Though Matthew is far from sympathetic, Sister Helen agrees to be his spiritual advisor and advocate, and lobbies for a new hearing on Matthew’s sentence.

Adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s non-fiction book by actor/director Tim Robbins, “Dead Man Walking” is an intense, harrowing account of one woman’s dogged attempt to assure spiritual (if not earthly) redemption for a condemned killer. Penn is ideally cast as the convict, but Susan Sarandon’s stripped-down performance as his spiritual guide is courageous, gut-wrenching work, fully meriting that year’s Oscar. Unavoidably depressing, “Dead Man Walking” is also very real, shedding light into spaces we could easily ignore, but shouldn’t.

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