Foster Boy is an astonishing, infuriating and frequently demoralizing tale undone by a general lack of precision. Jay Paul Deratany’s screenplay is technically based in truth, in that the domestic and institutional abuses inflicted upon the boy of the title have indeed happened to a certain percentage of children, and on his own experiences, which have been with several dozen such children. Another percentage of foster children are incarcerated, displaced from their home, or dead within three years of aging out of the system, which here is represented by a for-profit, money-grubbing center of corruption with a vastness that is honestly quite terrifying. At one point, they interfere with a father’s plan to retrieve his son from an airport, just to terrify the pair of them and the boy’s mother.

This is ultimately a bit of a throwaway plot point, but it is an important illustration of the breadth of power wielded by the institution, called Bellcore Family Services, that collectively acts as the villainous boogeyman of director Youssef Delara’s film. The hero, of sorts, is Michael Trainer (Matthew Modine), an opportunistic, no-nonsense corporate lawyer who is also more than a bit racist, as we learn upon his introduction to both his new client, Jamal Randolph (Shane Paul McGhie), and his new legal aide, Keisha James (Lex Scott Davis). Trainer seems to think that Keisha is often a part of the wallpaper, but his attitude toward Jamal – specifically, that he thinks the young man looks like a “thug” to be dismissed by a jury – isn’t a great way to introduce us to a protagonist.

As an actor, Modine seems to understand this conundrum, which leads to a performance that only comes fully into view when Trainer is impassioned on the behalf of his new client. The story here follows Trainer’s attempt to defend Jamal’s claims that Bellcore and, more specifically, its Vice President of Claims Pamela Dupree (Julie Benz) knowingly placed a registered sex offender, named Joey Poule (Grant Harvey), in the care of the Randolph parents (Michael Beach and Michael Hyatt) and concealed his criminal record. Moreover, Bellcore’s practices have extended far beyond this, to the point that failed placements make them more money. In the background of this specific story, then, there is a far more intriguing and insidious one about how they barter in those failed placements.

If you somehow haven’t gotten a full picture of the infuriating and demoralizing elements of this tale yet, then Delara and Deratany go a couple steps further by placing the load of a generation of suffering on Jamal’s shoulders and rely on the schematic nature of a courtroom drama (Louis Gossett Jr. plays the embattled judge presiding over the case, and Evan Handler plays the slimy defense lawyer for Bellcore) to hammer home their message. There isn’t anything specifically wrong with this approach, which certainly places all the evidence of Poule’s guilt, Bellcore’s negligence and Jamal’s need for a normal and stable home life under the microscope. This is clearly something in which Deratany has a solid and understandable stake, which comes through in the film’s story.

The problem is that the film’s passion often gets the better of it. Bellcore’s omnipotent reach and Dupree’s acts of negligent disdain are entirely defined through a series of murky flashbacks that are meant to communicate a whole lot of information at one time: Jamal’s abuse, the complicity of the system in keeping his abuse cyclical, the facts that might give Trainer and his team an opening through which to go after Dupree and her bosses. It all leads to the film’s most unique moment, in which Jamal performs his own testimony as a beat poetry performance (McGhie is especially solid here, when his own performance is allowed to open up). It comes far too late in Foster Boy, which tells an extraordinary and troubling story in a most familiar and flavorless way.

An astonishing, infuriating and frequently demoralizing tale undone by a general lack of precision.
50 %
Imprecise Rage
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