Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris, Lauren London, Antwan Andre
Patton, Mykelti Williamson, Keith David
Director: Chris Robinson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2006
“We were all at the same place in our lives, tryin’ to figure out what’s next. The one thing I did know: These were my friends. I could trust them. And Sunday night…we got loose.”
If you live in the south and happen to love hip hop music and film, you simply have to give it up to the southern hip hop scene, better known as dirty south rap. Not only has this section of the hip hop genre boasts some truly phenomenal rap artists, but has served as the basis for some heartfelt cinematic storytelling. Last year’s Hustle and Flow was the film that got it rolling, and now another slice of life tale in the south is reflected in the ATL.
The film is a well crafted coming of age story intercut with some astonishing musical dance interludes, which I’ll get to in a little bit. It marks the feature directorial debut of music video veteran Chris Robinson, and like Michael Bay and David Fincher before him, Robinson has made a most strong impression with his first film effort. Aside from demonstrating what a good director he is, Robinson definitely has the visual eye that helps in creating some amazing shots and sequences.
ATL, of course, is the abbreviation for Atlanta where the movie is set. The story tells of four friends who are weeks away from graduating high school and planning the next big step in their lives. The main character focus is Rashad (Tip ‘T.I.’ Harris), who is the most uncertain about his plans. He works part time as a janitor, and for now that’s just about all he sees in his future.
As for his friends, the one with the most promising future is Esquire (Jackie Long), who goes to a prep school and has a good chance of getting into a prestigious Ivy League school. Next, there’s Brooklyn (Albert Daniels), who is only concern at the moment is maintaining a decent job, even it’s for a minimum wage establishment. Lastly, there’s Teddy (Jason Weaver), who is trying his best to prove that he’s capable of graduating even after being held back two years in a row.
But even as these friends have different plans for the future, the one thing in common they’ll always have is a long weekly ritual; Sunday nights at the Cascade roller rink. It serves as best place to wash away any problems going on in their lives. Watching the characters skate the rink, it’s easy to see how it could. Rashad and his friends are one of many skate teams competing in the upcoming Skate Wars competition.
As the story progresses, Rashad finds himself dealing with two major turning points in his life. The first involves his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross), who seems to be seduced by the lure of quick cash by way of slinging drugs on the streets. The sight of a big, expensive car with a loud sound system and 28 inch rims is what triggers this desire. Turns out, the guy who owns the car, Marcus (Antwan Andre Patton), is the biggest drug dealer in town.
Rashad has to deal with his brother going down the wrong route at the same time he is falling for a girl named New New (Lauren London), whom he met at the roller rink. The two fall for each other pretty quick, even though she is keeping a huge secret from him. It’s a secret that could very much damage their relationship.
So ATL delivers two grand elements; a richly crafted multi-character piece and some of most phenomenal and original moments of dance choreography to hit the screen since Saturday Night Fever. The outstandingly choreographed roller skating sequences are the heart of the film and will certainly make you want to pick up a pair of skates and hit the rink yourself. And the style of movement that is seen as the characters skate simply has to be seen. I find it to be poetry in motion.
The cast of relative newcomers also help the film out hugely. Tip Harris, better know has rap star T.I., makes a most impressive acting debut in the lead role of Rashad. Harris has both charisma and intensity. The scenes where he faces off with the drug dealing boss and applies some real tough love on his brother excel in the intensity factor. And Antwan Andre Patton, a.k.a. Big Boi of rap duo Outkast, is fun and quite menacing as the fierce drug dealer.
Though the arc of the story may seem somewhat familiar, it’s the other elements that make ATL the engaging experience that it is. The screenplay is quite intelligent, the characters have a great deal of depth to them, and Chris Robinson’s directing is a treat for the eye. And lastly, the hip hop infused soundtrack and the mesmerizing roller skating dance sequences seal the deal in terms of grand and entertaining cinematic value.
ATL is a terrific mix of the best ingredients that film has to offer; characters, story, a sense of place and great music, adding up to a movie experience that you won’t soon forget.
This is a tremendous presentation courtesy of Warner. The anamorphic picture boasts a super sharp and flawlessly crisp picture. The image detail is phenomenal and color appearance is nothing short of amazing. As I mentioned earlier, director Chris Robinson has a unique visual style and it helps to create some memorable shots/sequences, and the grand DVD presentation makes outstanding use of it. Lastly, be sure that you pick up the widescreen version only, because Full Screen will indeed diminish the image effect.
The 5.1 mix delivers one bass-thumpin’ and ultimately dynamic sounding audio presentation. From the opening credits, backed up by the song ever so catchy “Georgia” by Ludacris, music is incorporated in just about every scene. And when the film cuts to the roller rink, your sound system will be rocked immensely. In fact, the audio plays a big part in the wish-you-were-there aspect of the skating scenes, to me at least. Dialogue delivery and numerous set pieces also get the highest of marks.
Included on this disc is a very well made documentary titled “In the Rink-A Director’s Journey”, which traces director Chris Robinson’s process of successfully transferring this film from page to screen. Also featured is a music video for T.I.’s striking and relentlessly catchy anthem “What You Know”, a few additional scenes and a Theatrical Trailer.
Though the style may exceed the story, ATL is a pure triumph of both, in addition to including terrific music and dance numbers. Like the actual setting itself, the film is more than worthy of a visit.