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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Movie Review - The Good Lie

The Good Lie (2014)
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jay, Kuoth Wiel, and Corey Stall
Directed by Philippe Falardeau

In 1983, a civil war broke out in Sudan over religion and various natural resources, leaving many southern villages ravaged by northern armies.  Orphaned children fled on foot as many as one thousand miles to Ethiopia and Kenya in hopes of finding a safe refuge.  More than a decade later, 3600 Sudanese refugees relocated to the United States.  The Good Lie is the story of four of them and their incredible journey is uplifting and inspirational.  

While Reese Witherspoon gets top billing here, this "based on true events" amalgamation isn't her tale at all which I actually found oddly refreshing.  Eschewing the typical Blind Side savior aspect, The Good Lie places its focus squarely on the Sudanese refugees themselves -- Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jay), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel).  The quartet of siblings (though not all necessarily through blood, but rather through spirit) win a lottery to travel to the US and find support from Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), a job placement specialist in Kansas City, Missouri.  Although they slowly but surely begin to grow accustomed to American social cues, the three brothers long to be reunited with their sister Abital who was sent to Boston to live with a family there.

As mentioned, The Good Lie is the refugees' tale -- Witherspoon doesn't even come into the picture until close to 35 minutes in.  Rather, we get a detailed story of the quartet of refugees as youths as they make their incredibly long and dangerous trek through Sudan to safe harbor in Kenya.  By connecting with them as kids, we grow to understand the familial bonds they form despite the fact that only Mamere and Abital are actually related.  The film unfortunately falters a bit when it initially makes it to the US as it falls into the stereotypical fish out of water moments that we've seen before -- "What's this 'McDonald's'?", mistaking a telephone for an alarm clock, how do you use a straw -- but this lighthearted overused element shifts rather quickly back to the bigger story at hand.

While Witherspoon is certainly solid in her portrayal, The Good Lie belongs to the Sudanese quartet. Thankfully, the actors portraying them -- three of whom are actual Sudanese refugees themselves -- are more powerful than I could've expected.  The feelings depicted by the quartet all feel genuine and we never get the sense that this is one of the first acting gigs for most of them.  This is by far the most impressive aspect of the film and director Philippe Falardeau deserves kudos as much as the fresh-faced actors for being able to believably deliver and elicit the wide range of emotions needed for these refugees' stories to spring to life.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

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