The film, based on a true story, cannot avoid the clichés of the genre nor is it stylistically or cinematically sophisticated; but this is not its aim. Rather its message is allowed to take centre stage, that a good cause can overcome almost any personal and societal struggle. This is conveyed with growing momentum and charm as the story unfolds.
The young cast put in strong performances and their characters command respect and sympathy. We see how their difficult lives and lack of support as much as bad choices have landed them in the prison system and how patterns of destructive behaviour, peer-enforced, threaten to undermine the efforts of the wardens to turn them around.
The film reminded me, in a condensed manner, of the storyline in season four of 'The Wire' where the corner-boy delinquent children in the school are placed into a research group where they can discuss and evaluate their lives and motivations for engaging in crime under supportive supervision. Racing For Time's message is similar in that it espouses a collaborative, activity-based response to juvenile offenders.
The film is worth mentioning also for its focus exclusively on female young offenders and exploration of their predicaments. Many of the characters have suffered at the hands of men and, though young and attractive, the actors' sexual appeal is not exploited in any way in this film. This makes it unusual in the context of American cinema.