It takes something special to break the mold of the boring, dull courtroom drama, and Foster Boy does just that. An excellent soundtrack injects a striking musicality to the proceedings. A moving performance from Shane Paul McGhie feels worthy of serious awards consideration. The young actor, who I’ve previously only seen in the After films, is terrific as the complex and complicated Jamal. The film manages an impressive balancing act, as it juggles searing drama with suspenseful mystery.
In the courtroom of Judge George Taylor (Louis Gossett Jr.) for ‘the fifth time this year,’ troubled Jamal (Shane Paul McGhie) gets thrown a surprising curveball. Taylor brings up a civil case that’s been floating around for nearly 6 years, and he conveniently appoints corporate lawyer Michael Trainer (Matthew Modine). Michael, who had been trying to secretly sneak away from the court, is none too happy about being forced into an assignment. The case is against a big for-profit foster agency: it alleges that the company knowingly placed a sex offender into the same home as young Jamal. At first, Michael characterizes Jamal as ‘a thug’ in package, appearance, and even hair. The two clash right off the bat, with Jamal dubbing his lawyer ‘3 piece.’ As the horrific realities of Jamal’s history in the system come to light, Michael turns a new leaf on his frankly racist, misguided opinions of his new client.
Foster Boy deals with heavy topics like rape, abuse, and deliberate child endangerment. It never feels like the movie is just checking things off from a list—each of these topics ties beautifully back into the bigger central themes. Each segment of the story is told with a tender hand and a harsh, truthful reality.
I can barely put into words just how much I truly loved Shane Paul McGhie’s performance as Jamal. He brings a rawness and aching pain to the role. A rap sequence on the stand is the film’s emotional high point and left me in tears. The trial drives Modine’s Michael to character growth of his own, as he tries to prioritize spending more time with his son, and putting himself into Jamal’s headspace. Michael and Jamal’s relationship ends up blossoming into a beautiful friendship. Julie Benz, who plays conniving Pamela, is that character you just love to hate. Louis Gossett Jr. is also great as the composed and always fair judge that sets the film’s events into motion.
Foster Boy is produced by the legendary Shaquille O’Neal, and written by Jay Paul Deratany, who brought expertise via cases and true life experience. Director Youssef Delara makes this film feel like a big event movie, complete with a moment near the end where I could practically hear the crowd celebrating. This is a story that feels vital and important, a story that no one else is telling. The foster care system, as the movie tells us, is designed to fail. The regulations behind the scenes are particularly shady. The wrongful placement of children throughout the system with little care for where they end up feels torturously cruel, and yet it happens on the regular. Hopefully, more eyeballs on this amazing film will help shed the light on the corrupt system. Furthermore, the way the system actually affects these people is most tragic of all. Foster Boy is now available to stream on VOD.