The Good Lie may star Reese Witherspoon and her name is on top of the poster. But, that is clearly to get audiences in the seats and attention drawn to an important movie that tells a tale that too little people know about.
The Sudan civil war sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from their homes and in the process thousands and thousands of orphaned children walked the Sudanese desert seeking asylum in Ethiopia. They would go back and forth in a diplomatic volleyball game that eventually found them walking thousands of miles only to arrive in a refugee camp. Some of them would eventually be chosen to come to America, mostly sponsored by faith groups and they would come to be known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Of course, there were some Lost Girls as well and The Good Lie tells just one tiny slice of an incredibly tragic story that is filled simultaneously with incredible heartbreak, hope, loss and the absolute worst and best of humanity.
Screenwriter Margaret Nagle does the bravest of things for a Hollywood movie -- she sets her story in Africa for the first third of the movie. We feel that in today’s studio system the pressure must have been immense to capsulize what the Sudanese refugees went through and get the story to America.
By putting a spotlight on their struggle and literally showing us the horrors they endured, when they do get to the U.S., it can be so much more than just a fish out of water story. There are some intense emotional issues these survivors need to deal with, and thus because we went on their horrific (and yet inspiring) journey, our story carries some serious weight.
We meet Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) as youngsters (played terrifically by a younger cast) and witness what they witness. Their village is destroyed and their parents are killed. They escape and do their best to survive. We see friends who do not make it. Their thirst for survival is an inspiration and is largely what drives The Good Lie to such heights.
When they arrive in America, it is Witherspoon and a church volunteer (Sarah Baker) who help them find an apartment, a job and to some extent adjust. But, no one is holding their hands. Even to see them marvel at a sink and how they can simply turn on and off water at will after wandering the desert searching for even a drop is a pure joy and also a moment for reflection at how blessed we are to live the life we lead.
Witherspoon is fantastic and she does the most marvelous job of getting out of the way, in a sense, of this story and letting this be all about the Africans instead of the white American who swoops in and save the day. In the end, it is them who has to take responsibility for their lives.
Through the story of these four Sudanese refugees, we learn about so many that have adjusted to life in America and are contributing in ways that are joyously astounding.
Our The Good Lie review also can report that director Philippe Falardeau did a masterful job of casting the main four leads.
By insisting that each is either from Sudan or was at least born there, there is an authentic reality that is front and center in his film. Each one of those performers either lived what these characters went through, or intimately knows someone who did. As such, they are able to have this one story be a solid representation of what tens of thousands experienced.