Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements, some violence, brief strong language and drug use. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 3, 2014 Released by: Warner Brothers
The first of two Reese Witherspoon films towards the close of movie season is genuinely affecting and a little calculating (the other being a more adult fact-based adaptation, Wild) though it doesn't have her front and center like Sandra Bullock's Oscar-winning turn in The Blind Side. It's a virtuous, hardly innovative melodrama reflected in documentaries like The Lost Boys of Sudan which has a familial energy in the face of inhumanity.
The Good Lie is a heartfelt drama about Sudan civil war refugees orphaned in a rebel assault trying to find opportunity in "the land of the free and the home of the brave" by fleeing its genocide when the rest of the world doesn't seem fazed by the atrocities.
The early and more riveting portion of French/Canadian helmer Philippe Falardeau's film follows a harrowing plight of six children in 1987 to a Kenyan refugee camp where in 2001 those (now down to four) adults find U.S. sponsorship from a religious relief institution after asylum came through a lottery process. The orphans had fled on foot for some 800 miles facing starvation while insurgents were after them.
A reluctant, provincial employment agency counselor, Carrie Davis (a brunette, rather subdued Witherspoon who appears well into the proceedings) has to pick up three of them at a Missouri airport and helps get them acclimated with their new modest housing. The harder task being placing them in jobs where they can thrive in place before a strong recession takes hold.
The single woman of the remaining Deng clan, Abital (Kuoth Wiel) is remanded because of immigration mandates to live with a Boston family while Carrie begins to bond with the Sudanese trio, her brothers; the camp paramedic Mamere (Arnold Oceng, an actual refugee), the religious, woebegone Jeremiah (Ger Duany, like Oceng in real-life) and mechanically minded, if straying Paul (Emmanual Jal). The very in-demand Corey Stoll (This Is Where I Leave You, Non-Stop, as well as House of Cards and The Strain on the small-screen) is the facilitator in Carrie's employer Scott whose financial means is a succor to relocate Abital closer to her siblings. Really, Witherspoon and Stoll are (not just narrative maneuverers ) like a congenial proxy for the onlooker, to react to these thoughtful folks caught in cultural transition and strife.
A little culture shock invites some humor, ala Million Dollar Arm, when it comes to seeing an apartment full of appliances and a telephone, but Falardeau and scripter Margaret Nagle (lauded for her work on HBO's Boardwalk Empire) put more emphasis on the importance of family and home and the sacrifices made when hope dwindles in the face of adversity. The Good Lie, which refers to a Huckleberry Finn reference at a night class, gets to the core of human interaction in a way that narrows the gap of the advantaged especially in natural, authentic turns by Oceng (especially when it comes to making a choice about a loved one supposedly lost in the tragic trek) and Duany (trashing expired produce that could serve the destitute). The cast and crew make this fish-out-of-water story simmer with emotional realism that will allow some tears to be shed and applaud the likes of the International Rescue Committee which has its hands full currently with the deadly E Bola virus.
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