“I don’t like the handicapped,” opines teen delinquent Malony (Rod Paradot) in Standing Tall‘s lone moment of indirect, self-reflexive humor. “They’re weird. They’re scary. They make weird noises.”
He is, of course, emotionally handicapped and unconsciously referring to himself. Like Taron Egerton in Kingsman: The Secret Service, whom he physically resembles, Malony is a young car thief with a single mother; his salvation comes not from Colin Firth teaching him to kill, but judge Catherine Deneuve giving him near-infinite chances at rehabilitation. After all, the kid is white — a privilege finally noted late in the film, long after most viewers will have thought of it.
Paradot exposes every last nerve and manages to be appropriately sensitive and confused between outbursts of rage. He benefits, too, from direction (by On My Way‘s Emmanuelle Bercot) that’s unafraid to make Malony look terrible; the romantic relationship that might save Malony begins in physical and sexual abuse like only two fucked-up criminal kids could do it. As the two find their bearings, in life and love, the camerawork steadies out and abandons the occasional chaotic cuts to handheld shots. Deneuve is mostly here to sit in chairs and get yelled at, but she does it like a champ.
Co-written by Bercot, the script veers from genuine grittiness (casual abortion) to the kind of telegraphed tragedy too easily indulged (Malony’s little brother is no more than a cheap sympathy prop). Paradot himself remains compelling throughout; he doesn’t need gratuitous third-act shenanigans to keep us watching.
Directed by Emmanuelle Bercot
Cohen Media Group
Opens April 1, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas