Thursday, January 25, 2007


Chris Robinson | 2006 | 105 min | USA

I don't know what I was expecting to get from ATL, but it sure as hell wasn't a coming of age story about roller skating crews. Are roller skating crews really an actual thing that exists in Atlanta? Apparently so. This movie follows four friends through their senior year in high school. They live, they love, they roller skate. And when they don't roller skate, they talk about roller skating. Boy, they love roller skating.

Stylistically, ATL is all over the place, both visually and story-wise. It moves from comedy to coming of age drama to crime drama and back, without any real knack for blending the ideas. It is apparent that the director and cinematographer come from music video backgrounds, but their mash of images works against them. There are some great visual ideas in this film. Unfortunately, not even a single style sticks around for long and some of my favourite graphic themes were quickly abandoned in favour of conventional tricks like (often worthless) title cards.

The young actors in this film do decent jobs with the material, and they excel at the scenes that display casual jokes and back and forth conversation. I would have loved for ATL to have stayed along those lines. Strangely, it veers off into a cliched 'little brother caught up dealing drugs' story well into the picture. Not a moment of that subplot is new or interesting and Robinson would have been smart to have left it alone. After a clumsy climax featuring exciting black violence, the wrap up at film's end feels truncated and stupidly cheery, attempting to recapture the tone it began with. The film starts out unexpectedly light, giving a fresh glimpse into black youth culture in Atlanta; a flip side to the countless stories of black inner city kids everyone is familiar with. Why oh why did it have to tread on to such banal territory?

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