"The film that proves that all life's problems can be solved with a montage"
The tagline for “ATL” calls the film “A New American Story,” which is a laugh because there isn’t a single aspect to this film that hasn’t been seen in other, better examples of the films to come from young African-American filmmakers in the last couple of decades.Set in a depressed area outside of Atlanta, the film revolves around three young men and their various and familiar problems–Rashad (T.I.) is the responsible young man who yearns to one day be an artist but who is forced, following the death of his parents, to help support his younger brother and wayward uncle, Esquire (Jackie Long) is the ambitious buppie-in-training who yearns for a better life and is taken under the wing of a local businessman (Keith David) who has turned his back on the poor community he came from and Ant (Evan Ross Naess), Rashad’s younger brother, yearns for a life of easy cash and finds himself heading towards serious trouble when he falls under the spell of a local drug dealer. If that wasn’t enough, “ATL” also throws in a rich young woman (Lauren London) posing as a homegirl in an effort to keep things real and an upcoming skate-off at the local roller rink and you have a film that is–all that it lacks is a guy dressed up as a woman to say outrageously sassy things (although there is a strident mother character that comes close to fitting the bill).
At no point in the film (based on a story by Antwone Fisher) do any of these elements feel authentic or tie together in an organic manner. Everything feels forced and artificial and lacking in that spark of life and experience that can usually be found in the best films of this particular genre. By the end, director Chris Robinson doesn’t even bother to bring his various plot threads to completion–instead, he resorts to that most hackneyed of cliches, a narrated montage that tells us what happened to everyone without having to do the heavy lifting of actually providing closure to their stories. None of the young performers make much of an impression and the more seasoned actors (besides David, the film also includes short appearances from Lonette McKee and Mykelti Williamson) look stricken by the lameness of the scenes they are performing.<
As I pointed out earlier, there is not a single element in “ATL” that hasn’t been seen in other films and I can guarantee that watching any one of them will provide more entertainment and food for thought than the reheated leftovers served up here.