Foster Boy

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Foster Boy
dir Youssef Delara
scr Jay Paul Deratany
prd Jay Paul Deratany, Andrew Sugerman, Peter Samuelson, Anne-Marie Mackay
with Matthew Modine, Shane Paul McGhie, Louis Gossett Jr, Lex Scott Davis, Julie Benz, Evan Handler, Amy Brenneman, Greg Germann, Michael Hyatt, Michael Beach, Jordan Belfi, Dominic Burgess
release US 25.Sep.20,
UK 1.Mar.21
20/US 1h49

handler brenneman germann

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belfi, mcghie and modine
A fictionalised take on a true story, this legal drama highlights a chilling ongoing subversion of justice. While the script is pointedly on-the-nose, recounting sobering events from the wrong perspective, the underlying themes are powerfully important. So even if the storytelling is oddly timid and obvious, and occasionally implausible, what emerges still manages to carry an enormous emotional punch. And it shines a light on an endemic problem.
After an abusive childhood in the care system, Jamal (McGhie) has found himself perpetually in prison. When he sues the fostering corporation for damages, a no-nonsense judge (Gossett) appoints slick big-money lawyer Michael (Modine) to take his case. Dismissive and haughty, Michael feels this is a waste of his valuable time. And Jamal isn't happy about this either. But Michael's junior team member Keisha (Davis) sees a chance to help someone. It takes awhile, but Michael comes around to Jamal's cause, which means taking on the kind of ruthless giant company he usually defends.
Even with its predictable narrative structure, the film highlights a variety of problems that arise when a social service is run for profit by private corporations who know how to make money even when people's lives are ruined. Extensive flashbacks during trial testimony reveal various key events from Jamal's childhood, depicting his abuse in a way that's never exploitative while noting how he fell through the cracks. But it takes a while for Michael to understand that he needs to fight for this powerless young thug and take on the system.

While the script centres on Michael's journey to discover a sense of compassion, adeptly played by Modine, the more compelling story is Jamal's. McGhie is excellent as the heart of the film, a smart and tightly contained young man struggling to admit, even to himself, what happened to him. The first time he takes the witness stand is devastating. And the gradual thaw between these very different men is provocative and moving. Meanwhile, Davis' sensitive turn as Keisha provides a bridge into Jamal's perspective.

When they're not straining to say something important, director Delara and writer Deratany find some lovely interpersonal moments. But continuous cliches badly weaken the film. These include the need to create a virtual moustache-twirling villain in company boss Simon (Germann) and his vile sidekick Pamela (Benz), whose monstrosity knows no bounds. So while the movie has that made-for-network-television simplicity, it also has enough grit and intensity to make it feel urgent.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 27.Feb.21

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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall