I came across this movie on cable recently and I was surprized - I really enjoyed it. I remember this movie came out last year about the same time as "Akeelah and the Bee" - another excellent film - but based on what I saw on the commercials for it, I said, "Oh please, not ANOTHER hood movie with black kids shooting each other up" and passed on it. I went to see "Akeelah" instead because it was being promoted as a movie with positive black characters, which we need more of. I enjoyed it but now after seeing "ATL", I realized seeing either one of those movies would have been a wise choice. "ATL" was definitely marketed the wrong way and fooled a lot of people, like it did me.
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.