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Four teenagers come of age in a working-class Atlanta neighborhood where hip-hop sizzles and roller skating rules. Seventeen-year-old Rashad (Tip Harris) was forced to become the man of the house early. Since the death of his parents, he's been responsible for himself and his little brother, Ant (Evan Ross). As Rashad tries to keep Ant in school and out of trouble, the only bright spot in his life is New-New (Lauren London), who sees something special in him, something more than he sees. When the two meet, Rashad's future starts to open up for the first time. But New-New has a secret that's getting harder and harder to keep.]]>
If you've grown weary of gangsta thrillers and violent depictions of thug life, ATL will hit you like a breath of fresh air. Based on a story by Antwone Fisher (writer and subject of the 2003 film that bears his name) and written by Tina Gordon Chism, it's essentially a contemporary African-American riff on American Graffiti, focusing on a group of teenagers on the cusp of adulthood, learning valuable life lessons as they strive to make a better future for themselves and their loved ones. The title refers to the airport designation for Atlanta, and that's where orphaned 17-year-old Rashad (Tip Harris, aka rapper T.I.) lives with his younger brother Anton (Evan Ross) and uncle George (Mykelti Williamson). They're poor like most Southside families, but they're making ends meet, caring for each other and forging life-long friendships with guys like the smart, ambitious Esquire (Jackie Long), transplanted New Yorker Brooklyn (Albert Daniels), and likable homeboy Teddy (Jason Weaver). On Sunday nights they hang at the Cascade roller rink, trying to impress the girls with their latest moves, and director Chris Robinson (veteran of many music videos) captures it all with casual momentum and genuine affection for his characters. A little too casual perhaps (the pacing sometimes lags), but with a lively mix of color and music, ATL manages to be positive and hopeful without sanitizing the harsher realities (including drugs and violence) of modern urban America. There are threats and obstacles to overcome, but ATL is all about potential, striving for goals and accepting responsibility for one's own actions. Between this and Get Rich or Die Tryin', which example would you prefer to follow? --Jeff Shannon
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Produced by Will Smith's production company, Overbrook Entertainment and based a story written by Antwone Fisher (who was himself the subject of a movie directed by Denzel Washington a few years back), "ATL" is far from being your typical black film about coming of age in the hood. It does show some instances of drug dealing and violence, but very few, and that is not the central focus of the story anyway. This is an urban tale with a message that is powerful - striving and working hard to achieve the better things in life in an honest fashion, and having some fun along the way. That includes Sunday nights at the Cascade - a popular roller rink on the southside of Atlanta, where all of the kids love to hang out and have a good time. The focal point of "ATL" is on the lives and the camaraderie of four friends who ponder their futures as they approach graduation.
Because I am not really into today's rap music, I was not too familiar with T.I., other than from his song that was a big hit last year, "What You Know". But I thought he showed wonderful potential in the starring role of Rashad, a poor, 17 year old high school kid who has a gift for art and lives with his janitor uncle because both of his parents were killed in an auto accident. He is extremely protective of his little brother, Ant (Evan Ross, Diana's son). Ant's only goal is to make big money and sport bling-bling, since he feels this is the only way he can gain some respect and attention. He decides to get on the fast track to obtain what he wants, but he's not quite ready to deal with the consequences.
The supporting cast, which includes veteran actors Keith David, Lonette McKee, Mykelti Williamson (his poetic reading later in the film blew me away) and Jason Weaver as a high school super senior, was perfectly chosen. Lauren London, who plays New New, does a great job as a sassy, ghetto-fabulous diva with a secret. She and Rashad begin dating and their relationship is a mutual one until a chance event causes the truth to unfold. Also to take note of is the intelligent, proud and driven Esquire (Jackie Long) who has dreams of going to an Ivy League college but fears because of his parents' income and his background, his opportunities will be extremely limited. Big Boi from the hip-hop duo OutKast and singer Monica also appear in the film, although Big Boi's role is way more pivotal to the storyline, while Monica simply makes a cameo appearance.
Think of this as sort of an updated, African-American version of "American Graffiti" - but one I can definitely relate to much more, with various intertwined stories of everyday life in the Georgia hood. Overall, this film speaks of dreams and aspirations - realized, potential, and yes, unachieved. "ATL" is inspirational in its own way - a humorous, touching and refreshing alternative to the typical films out there about growing up poor and black with the odds stacked against you. No, yall, you don't have to die trying to get rich. There is a better way! A must see.
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