Writer: Jay Paul Deratany
Director: Youssef Delara
This well-made courtroom drama coming to digital download features Matthew Modine as a lawyer forced to represent a young man neglected by a private foster care firm. Even though Foster Boy is based on a true story some incidents in the film’s second half stretch credibility, rather undermining the examination of the misdoings of private companies in the American Social Care system.
Modine plays Michael Trainer, a corporate lawyer without much of a conscience. He just makes sure his wealthy clients don’t lose, regardless of morals. After one such victory in a Chicago court, Judge George Taylor (an excellent and scene-stealing Louis Gossett Jr.) hands him a pro bono case that he legally can’t refuse. He’s directed to defend Jamal, a man trying to sue the executives of a foster care company that put him in a home with another boy who they knew was a sexual predator.
Trainer wants the case over as quickly as possibly, not seeing past Jamal’s skin colour and the fact that Jamal is serving time for drug dealing. He tells Jamal to accept the money that BellCore, a for-profit foster agency offers. But Jamal refuses to settle: he wants to tell his story, but, as Trainer soon discovers, he is a reticent witness in the stand. How is Trainer to defend him, if Jamal can’t put into words the abuse that he suffered?
If Trainer doesn’t like Jamal very much at least the feeling is mutual, and Shane Paul McGhie gives Jamal a snarling front to cover his hurt, calling Trainer ‘three piece’ even though the lawyer doesn’t wear a waistcoat for most of the film. McGhie deals admirably with a character that seems to be underwritten; we know that he is angry and we know that he has been repeatedly sexually assaulted, but other parts of his life are unexplored and it comes as quite a jolt to see him take control of proceedings back in the prison. When BellCore play dirty, Jamal welcomes Trainer to his world.
But it’s this turn to paranoid thriller – bugged phones, widespread corruption, kidnapped children – where Foster Boy trips up, not helped by Julie Benz’s portrayal of the very one-dimensional BellCore boss Pamela Dupree. However, along with Amazon Prime’s I Care A Lot, a film about a private legal guardianship firm, Foster Boy does show the dangers of companies making profits off vulnerable people, a burgeoning problem in the UK too as Social Care becomes increasingly privatised.
While the thriller aspect of the film doesn’t quite work, director Youssef Delara ensures that Foster Boy doesn’t become too sentimental, and the relationship between lawyer and client is never overdone, reflecting that the two men live very different lives, despite the joint battle that they wage. That they both learn from each other is never in doubt from their first shouty encounter, but it’s satisfyingly unclear whether this new knowledge of ‘the other’ will last.
Overall, Foster Boy is a solid courtroom drama, albeit with some solid courtroom clichés. The end may be a little too patriotic for British audiences, but the dependable Modine and newcomer McGhie still make for an engaging watch.
Released on Digital Demand on 1 March 2021