Atlantic City, New Jersey is often viewed as a fun beach city where you can gamble, indulge in alcohol and food, and explore the vast nightlife it has to offer. Thousands flock to the booming city every year in search of a get away from the hustle and bustle of their usual lives. With all of the drinking and gambling opportunities comes a darker, addiction-ridden side of the city that is not always understood. Director and writer Henry Butash has attempted to unearth and humanize the darker side of Atlantic City in his new film.
The Atlantic City Story follows Jane, a woman at a crossroads in her life, stuck in an unhappy marriage. In a moment of spontaneity, Jane decides to flee to Atlantic City without notifying anyone, including her husband. There, she meets a mysterious young man named Arthur with troubling characteristics and habits. What unfolds is a unique and tumultuous relationship between the two that is both stressful and enjoyable to watch.
The best way to describe the style of this movie is a “slice-of-life” drama following the lives of normal but distressed people. Addiction plays a very important role in the film. At times it is almost its own character, constantly looming over Jane and Arthur. Butash is sure to utilize a very demure and gloomy view of Atlantic City throughout the movie, which adds to the alarming and ever present nature of addiction.
Lead actress Jessica Hecht delivers a noteworthy performance as Jane. Hecht has had a remarkable acting career that spans across television and movies. Having been featured in the Golden Globe winning television show Breaking Bad as well as movies such as Banana Split, there isn’t much Hecht can’t do. She proves that point in this picture, consistently delivering a somber, heartfelt performance that is evident to anyone who watches the film. Jane’s pain and longing is palpable throughout this motion picture thanks to Hecht’s sobering performance.
Lead actor Mike Faist also offers an impressive and haunting performance as Arthur. Faist was previously in the Tony-winning Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen and has also been featured in multiple films including Wildling. Faist is also set to appear in Steven Spielberg’s anticipated remake of West Side Story, which is slated for release in 2021. In this film, the darkest and most upsetting moments are plentiful. However, among these depressing moments, Faist’s acting abilities shine bright. Viewers should keep an eye on this young rising star, especially after the moving display he delivers in this movie.
Tackling an important issue such as gambling addiction with dignity and honesty is not an easy task, and is one that Henry Butash should be proud of. Having previously worked in the editorial department of other movies, such as Swallow, Butash decided to try out writing and directing. This debut is a touching triumph for Butash, and we hope to see many more films from him in the future.
The issue with The Atlantic City Story emerges in some of the more dramatic, over-the-top sequences that don’t directly relate to the central issue. One particular segment involving a psychic and a long stretch of Hecht leaning over a railing feels “out there” and doesn’t add much of anything to the overall feel of the film. While there is symbolism that can be found in these few minutes, it also distracts from the heart of the story.
The film as a whole is a wonderful introduction to a brilliant new director, Henry Butash, and yet another dazzling performance from Mike Faist and Jessica Hecht. The true achievement of this motion picture is that it is sure to resonate with a variety of individuals. If you’d like to see for yourself, The Atlantic City Story will be part of the virtual Denver Film Fest until November 8th.