ATL
It’s celebrity rock, paper, scissors … this week with Big Boi!

Theatrical Release Date: 03/31/2006
Director: Chris Robinson
Cast: Tip “T.I.” Harris, Lauren London, Jackie Long, Mykelti Williamson, Keith David

I’ve done a fairly good job of getting around the United States. To date, I’ve been to 48 states, with only Florida and Hawaii escaping my tyranny.

One of my favorite places is Atlanta, Georgia – also known as the ATL – and it’s not surprising that a film of the same name has been made.

The Atlanta hip-hop scene has been on the map for some time now, with Outkast and Ludacris leading the charge from regional to national recognition.

What defines the Atlanta sound are amazing beats and melodic rhymes that break the traditional mold that has dominated the hip-hop scene for the last twenty years.

Thanks to this increased recognition, “ATL” was made possible. Rather than getting the same old New York or L.A. story about bad neighborhoods and the people struggling within them, the people of Atlanta are able to show off their distinctive spirit and character.

The story revolves around T.I.’s character as he ascends to adulthood. It’s far from a novel story – he and his friends are trying to figure a way out of Mechanicsville, a poor suburb of Atlanta, and along the way, they encounter hardship and have to rely on each other to get through it all.

This type of film has been done before, albeit with more violence, in “Boyz n’ da Hood” and “Menace II Society”.

I say with more violence because I was surprised that a film of this genre would be released with a PG-13 rating. Whether that was a studio decision to make more money or a creative decision to reach a wider audience, this might be one of the few times I agree with it.

The message of the film is to go through life the right way, avoid drugs and bad influences, and to make something of yourself through hard work and your own devices.

In a society so centered on getting everything you want in a flash, regardless of your effort, “ATL” is breath of fresh air.

The acting all around is fairly strong. T.I. didn’t show much range but you could see so much going on in his eyes that sometimes when his expressions and speech couldn’t quite deliver the message, you could still see what he was trying to convey.

Keith David, one of my favorite character actors, actually gets a chance to carry a more central role here and an important one. He has gotten out of the ghetto and become a rich businessman, only to forget where he came from.

Mykelti Williamson plays the Uncle forced to raise his nephews after their parents die in a car crash and his versatility as an actor is always wonderful. Although the kids won’t admit it, his strength of character has been a huge factor in their chances at success.

Speaking of the kids, Evan Ross plays T.I.’s younger brother and his mistake to get in business with Antwan Andre “Big Boi” Patton running drugs is the elephant in the room. You know it will come to no good in the end but it was nice to see it play out rather than immediately burst in his face.

Although, the ending of the film is where I have my problem. After spending all this time to build the foundation of a good film, where you feel like you have gotten to know some of these characters, the last ten minutes wrap everything up with what is essentially an epilogue.

The climactic event near the end gives way to an abrupt and shallow ending. This was so disheartening as I had become so attached to the world being presented throughout the course of the film.

Not surprisingly, part of what made it so easy to gravitate towards the film is its soundtrack. While I’m more than perturbed there doesn’t seem to be an actual soundtrack album (if there is, someone let me know), the music is excellent and representative of the Atlanta sound.

If you liked some of the other films I’ve mentioned like “Menace II Society” or have at least a cursory knowledge of Atlanta, I think there’s a lot to like in “ATL”.

I’m giving the film a 3 out of 5. I was planning on giving out a higher rating but the ending is like a sucker punch to the gut. That’s one of the very few missteps though and I wish more movies would treat their characters with this level of sincerity and heart.