Judge Dennis Prince is keepin' it real when he says heartily applauds this urban drama filled with interesting and largely likable characters.
Our review of ATL, published July 24th, 2006, is also available.
School sucks. Rent past due. Your girl left you. On Sunday night, none of that now. You could be whoever you wanted to be.
For 17-year-old high school senior Rashad Swann (Tip "T.I." Harris), life in the "ATL" sometimes seems a boring journey to an uncertain future. Though he has secret aspirations of becoming an artist, his dream seems doubtful since the tragic death of his parents, leaving him and his younger brother, Ant (Evan Ross, Pride), to be looked after by their slovenly Uncle George (Mykelti Williamson, Lucky Number Slevin). Without a reliable father figure in his life, Rashad attempts to put together some sort of life's plan while bouncing ideas off his friends, Teddy (Jason Weaver, Drumline) and Brooklyn (Albert Daniels). It seems that the fourth element in their "posse," Esquire (Jackie Long, Playas Ball) may be on his way to Slick City since he's attending a local prep school and working at a country club where he's happened to rub elbows with the millionaire businessman, John Garnett (Keith David, Crash). For the other three, though, it's a blue-collar paycheck that tides them over from week to week.
On Sunday nights, the youth of the ATL leave all their work and life worries behind when they converge on The Cascade, the local roller rink. It's just a few weeks until this year's big money Skate Wars commence and Rashad and the three have every intention of bringing home a win. And while Rashad is busy thinking of Skate Wars and courting the very pretty New-New (Lauren London), he's unaware that young Ant has been recruited to sell pot for the local drug dealer Marcus (Big Boi, Idlewild). It's the good, the bad, and sometimes the unexpected for these youths trying to chart their path into adulthood in the ATL.
The biggest problem with first-time director Chris Robinson's ATL was probably its ad campaign. When pitched via trailers or TV spots, it looked like another urban battle picture that offers its characters nothing much outside of bling-bling and bang-bang. The fact is this is a gem of a film and one that was improperly overlooked. Chris Robinson took the insightful and incisive screenplay from Tina Gordon Chism and brought it to resonant life with his deft eye for character nuances and spot-on pacing. The camera setups are to be highly applauded since they grant us entry into these teens lives in the ATL. It's a playful interaction we share with the characters and one that's often painful as we experience their disappointments, eye to eye. All of the actors, every one of them, deliver praiseworthy performances that appear real, consistent, and wholly engaging. What's most appreciated about ATL is that it doesn't wallow in street violence nor does it whitewash the challenges to inner city youth. It comes off as an honest portrayal of kids just trying to figure out to how to make something of themselves and, by the time the film's done, we feel we know each of them. Their time at the roller rink is fun, largely given the skills on display, but the real action in this picture is happening just behind the characters' eyes. This is completely refreshing in the urban crime genre and provides an alternative to "get rich or die trying." It's about time.
Previously released on standard definition DVD, ATL has been upgraded to show off the eye-popping capabilities of the HD-DVD format. The disc is mastered in the combo format (HD-15 / DVD-9), keeping the hybrid flipper-disc incarnation still alive and kicking. The first side presents the feature in a high-definition enhanced transfer, framed at 2.40:1. In comparison to other releases (and we're getting a bigger selection to compare to), the image quality here ranks in the 90-percentile. The color saturation is quite impressive, rendering all subtleties of flesh tones while also blasting intense neon in perfect juxtaposition. The detail level runs quite high, showing off the capabilities of the HD format to deliver life-like textures from start to finish. The source material is spotless and there are no compression artifacts to be found. The only blemish to be found here occurs at the 39:13 mark where noticeable grain afflicts the picture for about half a minute. Other than that, this truly is a top-notch presentation. The audio is offered in an energetic Dolby Digital-Plus mix that will bounce your LFE channel with every hip-hop beat yet still maintain clear dialogue and some directional effects through it all. Flip the disc over and you'll see the same SD transfer as was previously released, anamorphically enhanced at the same 2.40:1 aspect ratio. While its certainly clean and upconverts respectably, it simply pales in comparison to the HD presentation. The audio is offered here is a simple Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. You'll also find the bonus features on the SD side, the same as appeared on the previous SD-only release. In short order, these include the featurette, In the Rink—A Director's Journey, deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer, and T.I.'s music video, "What You Know."
Had I not had the opportunity to give ATL a look, I would never have known the excellent experience it offers. Congratulations are certainly due to Chris Robinson and it will be interesting to see which feature film task he tackles next. He is a real talent, as are the actors in this particular picture. I strongly recommend you give ATL a look and, if you're HD-DVD ready, be sure to view it in all its high-definition glory.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• In the Rink -- A Director's Journey
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