Foster Boy: The BRWC Review – This legal drama inspired by real events centers on Jamal Randolph (Shane Paul McGhie) a young teen in Chicago currently at the end of a prison sentence who is set to begin a civil trial against Bellcore Family Services, a private contractor that places kids into foster homes on behalf of the state. Jamal alleges that his case worker at Bellcore, Pamela Dupree (Julie Benz) knowingly placed another foster child who had a history of sexual violence in the same home as Jamal without informing him or his foster parents. This other foster child then proceeded to repeatedly sexually assault Jamal over a three year period and Ms. Dupree never intervened despite Jamal’s complaints. Seeing that he currently has no lawyer to represent him, Judge George Taylor (Louis Gossett Jr.) assigns corporate attorney Michael Trainer (Matthew Modine) to Jamal’s case pro bono.
Though initially reluctant to take on the case due to it not being corporate litigation as well as prejudice against Jamal’s background, Michael’s investment in the case deepens as he learns more about Jamal himself and his history, as well as witnessing Bellcore’s suspicious attempts to have the case settled quickly. Initially, Jamal finds himself reluctant to trust Michael as he views him as an elitist corporate lawyer who is part of the system that has failed him repeatedly. The film follows Jamal and Michael as they get to know and trust one another as they seek to have Jamal’s story told, while fighting against prejudice and Bellcore’s escalating attempts to both settle the case and intimidate and discredit them.
Director Youssef Delara and writer Jay Paul Deratnay craft an engaging drama that touches on a variety of important issues such as racial prejudice, class inequity, the dangers of a for-profit foster care system, the presence of abuse in many foster homes, corporate corruption and the lingering effects of trauma. While all these issues clearly inform plot, character, and performance, the confines of a 100 minute runtime and the legal drama genre format limit how much depth can be mined from these ideas. A large portion of the film is spent on Michael Trainers’ arc of starting out resistant to take on the case, to accepting it as he learns more about Jamal and what Bellcore is willing to do to win the case. Including threatening him and his family. This emphasis on Michel results in a feeling that Jamal disappears from the narrative for a significant portion of the film, despite his journey of receiving justice and having the opportunity to tell his story being the core of the story.
The performances by the two leads is what truly allows the film to have the weight and impact that it does. Matthew Modine as Michael Trainer effortlessly embodies a man who slowly realizes that he has been blind to his privilege and has harboured some level of prejudice and indifference to those around him. But when he is confronted with irrefutable proof of corruption, injustice and pain in Jamal’s case, he accepts the call to action. Shane Paul McGhie gives a standout performance as Jamal Randolph. McGhie has the difficult task of portraying a character who in some ways has had to harden himself in order to cope with the trauma of his past and the repeated failures of the system, while at the same time must also possess an undercurrent of vulnerability and sadness so the audience can both empathize with him and see the level of pain that abuse can inflict on someone. McGhie embraces this challenge and the result is a captivating performance. Particularly during one scene near the film’s end where Jamal is on the witness stand.
The supporting players are also great in their roles here. Michael Beach and Michael Hyatt are outstanding as Bill and Shaina Randolph respectively, Jamal’s foster turned adoptive parents who never stop fighting for him and harbor natural guilt that Jamal’s abuse occurred under their own roof without them knowing it. Louis Gossett Jr. is stellar as Judge George Taylor, a character defined by his pursuit of justice and fairness throughout the whole film, A man who serves as both a firm disciplinarian and advocate for Jamal. Julie Benz is also very engaging as Pamela Dupree, a character that represents what callousness and profit-centric thinking can lead a person to do. Despite these attributes and a relatively limited amount of screentime. Benz’ performance hints at hidden depths and complexities within this character that will leave viewers thinking about her motivations after the credits roll.
If you want to see a film with great performances that talks about important issues while incorporating them into a compelling drama, watch this film if given the chance.
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