THE GOOD LIE (Kenya | India | USA/12A/110mins)
Directed by Philippe Falardeau. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Corey Stoll, Kuoth Wiel, Femi Oguns.

THE PLOT: Having spent many years in a Kenyan refugee camp after Sudan was engulfed in civil war, refugees Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) are awarded a chance at a new life in the US. When they arrive, however, they find life in the fabled land of America is very different than the one they are used to.

THE VERDICT: Refugees from Sudan who found themselves scattered around the world are now The Lost Boys of Sudan, and there is little doubt that the stories of these survivors, and the hardships they went through are daunting. Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal, who play Jeremiah and Paul in THE GOOD LIE, were both forced to become child soldiers, and it is perhaps this level of experience and trauma in these actors’ lives that makes the film work far better than it should.

Reese Witherspoon presumably lent her name to THE GOOD LIE in order to get the film made. Her role is rather small and unimpressive, since this is the storey of the refugees, bot the Americans who helped them. The same goes for Corey Stoll as Jack. Oceng, Duany and Jal are the emotional heart and soul of the film, and they do well in getting the audience on their sides. The trouble is, they are often let down by a trite and slightly insulting script.

Speaking of the screenplay – written by Margaret Nagle – it is the seeming desire to show how strange the Western world is to these Sudanese survivors that makes the film feel a little twee and insulting. There are entire scenes where the characters are treated like idiots for not understanding technology or the way the US works, then pandered to and talked down to when characters try to explain the way of the world to them. It is this that distracts from the power of the survivors’ story, and turns the film from a drama to a slightly cringeworthy comedy.

Director Philippe Falardeau does well enough with the action set in Sudan, when the characters are children, but when they come to the West, the film turns – probably unintentionally – into a tale reminiscent of Eddie Murphy’s COMING TO AMERICA. There is powerful emotional heart at the centre of THE GOOD LIE, but sometimes it is difficult to see, buried as it is under a layer of schmaltz and saccharine.

In all, THE GOOD LIE is a film about a subject that needs exploring, but since this film is determined to be feel good, rather than emotionally true, this is not the film needed to tell the tale. Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal are strong in their roles, but are hampered by an overly sweetened script that lacks subtlety.


Review by Brogen Hayes

The Good Lie
Review by Brogen Hayes
2.0Overly Sweet
  • filmbuff2011

    Phippe Falardeu’s follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar is The Good Lie, another very human story about courage and determination. It’s set in war-torn Sudan of the 1980s. Having been driven from their homes, a group of Sudanese children, some of them siblings, trek through the desert to Ethiopia. There they find a refugee camp and spend the next few years there, growing up and becoming stronger in the face of adversity. They are Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Abital (Kuoth Wiel). In 2001, they’re given the opportunity to start a new life in America. They arrive there, disoriented and culture shocked. This isn’t helped by career counsellor Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), who initially acts in a disinterested, business-like manner towards them. But she soon warms to their kind, well-mannered personalities and changes their lives for the better. Where once there was fear and doubt, now there is hope and a place they can call home… The Good Lie is based on a true story about the ‘lost boys and girls of Sudan’, who barely had time to hold onto their childhood while running for their lives from the militia. The first act takes place in Sudan, giving the audience time to understand where these characters are coming from. The second and third acts mostly take place in America, where a fish-out-of-water element comes into play. The refugees soon discover the wonders of telephones, pizza, cereal names and the fact that Carrie is an unmarried woman in her 30s. This is not unlike last year’s Million Dollar Arm and is played for warm, encouraging laughs. But there’s also something a bit deeper going on here, something rooted in a very human perspective of family, friendship and survival. In the roles of the refugees, Falardeu cast four non-professional actors who are themselves Sudanese refugees. They give very naturalistic, unshowy performances that are all the more poignant when you consider their background. It may be a low-key film, but The Good Lie is a very rewarding journey. ****

  • emerb

    Directed by the Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau from a screenplay by Margaret Nagle (“Boardwalk Empire”), “The Good Lie” is a warmhearted fictionalized account of a handful of Sudan’s “lost boys” – those who survived the Sudanese genocide and fought their way to the United States to build a new life for themselves.

    Inspired by the experiences of 3,600 homeless Sudanese children who were allowed to emigrate to America from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s, “The Good Lie” concentrates on a small group, three of them siblings – two brothers,Theo (Okwar Jale), his younger brother, Mamere (Peterdeng Mongok), and their sister, Abital (Keji Jale), who are orphaned after their a sudden and brutal attack leaves their home village destroyed. They join a small group of children whose families have all been massacred and flee across the desert in search of freedom. When
    Theo, their designated chief, allows himself to be captured to save the rest, his siblings have few expectations of seeing him again and Mamere assumes leadership. Joined by two brothers from a neighboring village, Jeremiah and Paul, the remaining children bond and set out on a long and treacherous barefoot trek across the punishing desert. Some of the scenes along the way are heartwrenching – in particular when the children are forced to drink their own urine. At another point there is a harrowing sequence as the boys make their way across a river that is filling up with the bodies of refugees who have just been slaughtered in order to avoid vicious rebels prowling nearby. Siblings and friends die of starvation, dehydration and attacking soldiers, although thankfully the movie doesn’t dwell on the unsettling or violent scenes for too long. The arduous journey takes them 735 miles before they arrive, barely alive, at a refugee camp in Kenya which offers food and shelter.

    After 13 years in the camp, they grown into strong, resourceful young men and finally humanitarian efforts abroad give them a chance to emigrate to the United States. However, much to their distress, the boys find that they are separated from Abital by bureaucratic red tape. She is sent to a foster family in Boston, while they land in Kansas City, where they meet Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon). Carrie is the American employment agent who is there to welcome them and to help them hunt for jobs and adjust to their new home. When she first
    sees them, wearing their brand new donated sweatshirts and carrying their
    meagre belongings in plastic bags she knows her task will be next to impossible.
    The experiences of the boys in a strange new country are heartwarming and often amusing. They have never seen an elevator or a light switch, they don’t know what a telephone is nor do they know what to do with the food they are given. Carrie’s job ends when she finds them a job stacking shelves but when they break the rules, she is forced to help out again. They keep appearing in her life – whether it’s Mamere bringing her oranges or Paul is having difficulties adjusting to this strange new world, she finds herself becoming closer to them. After initial reluctance, gradually she warms to this new relationship. She sympathizes with their plight and goes out of her way to help reunite them with their sister for Christmas.

    A dark haired Reese Witherspoon gives a decent performances here and the hard edged role she plays here is certainly a far cry from Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde”. She is an impatient, free spirited lady who drives a pickup, sleeps with the local Waffle House manager and lives in a filthy apartment but yet she is headstrong and fiercely determined. Over the course of the film, her view of the world changes in ways she could not have foreseen leading to a deeply satisfying climax. Her character is credible and although the posters and trailer
    seem to suggest she is the main star, hers is largely a supporting role. The main stars of the film are the charming actors from Sudan – Arnold Oceng is the standout as the aspiring doctor Mamere who is permanently haunted by his brother’s sacrifice, Ger Duany as the pious, gentle giant Jeremiah and Emmanuel Jal as the fiesty handyman Paul. They are captivating, well developed characters and each one brings a unique presence to the screen. They were all played by actual Sudanese survivors, some of them former child soldiers. My favourite scene was watching the 3 boys explode in fits of laughter at one of the oldest jokes in history – “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
    “The Good Lie” is an engaging, feel good movie that strikes just the right balance between heartwarming and sensitive while not becoming too saccharine or sentimental. Dominating the action and emotion of the film is the enormous challenge facing the immigrants and their deep familial loyalty. Their struggle to adjust to a normal life after enduring such hardship is remarkably well portrayed
    in the well-written and well-paced script. The story is touching and sensitive,
    possessing honesty and authenticity and I enjoyed every minute. I would expect strong box office results.