Bercot is able to craft a believable arc within her protagonist, allowing for a gradual character progression rather than one that is abrupt and difficult to reckon with.
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The film quickly devolves into a contemptible, exploitative presentation of sociological matters.
Bercot's solidly engaging if fairly routine social-realist drama mainly stands out as an actor's showcase.
While Bercot's intentions are admirable, she and co-screenwriter Marcia Romano have conjured up too many moments that play out like thousands of courtroom scenes you've seen before.
Standing Tall can’t be faulted for energy and for seriousness - and offers a rare case of a troubled-teen drama in which the justice system is seen as entirely benevolent, and a source of succour to troubled souls.
The powerful turns don’t necessarily build towards a satisfying conclusion, in a film that starts off strong but can’t always decide whether it wants to keep it real or give viewers the sort of movie moments found in less-inventive dramas.
Bercot's setting out to make both a character study of a troubled young man wasting his potential, and an examination of a system trying desperately to do right by its charges, despite the immense difficulties and occasional bureaucratic red tape that tie their hands. It's more successful at the latter than at the former.
It is a high-minded, often touching movie which replaces the nihilism and miserabilism often to be found in social realism, and replaces them with a positive vision of what the state can – and can’t – do to help.
Bercot studiously avoids the sort of catharsis-oriented pop psychology the genre so often peddles.
The film has a scrappy optimism about it that’s often very winning, but it never draws itself up to its full height.