Somewhat didactic but ultimately very moving drama about how a small group of kids managed to survive the Sudanese Civil War, followed by years in a Kenyan refugee camp. Finally they arrive in the USA just before 9/11… where a new set of challenges awaits them.
Kudos to Reese Witherspoon for adding her star power in a supporting role as a Kansas City employment counselor. (JLH: 4/5)
The Good Lie is based on the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan, caught in the mid 1990s civil war between the Arabic North Sudan and the Christian South. The film begins with young cattle herder “Mamere,” (Arnold Oceng) carousing with his large extended tribal family when Islamic men arrive on horseback and kill every parent in their group. The surviving children, starved and dehydrated, walk for 300 miles to Somalia and Kenya. But in the midst of their journey, leader “Theo,” (Femi Oguns) gives himself over to the Northern Sudanese soldiers to protect his siblings and cousins from being caught. When Theo is dragged off, Mamere becomes the chief by default and they struggle on, eventually making it to a Kenyan refugee camp.
The film jumps ahead years later to their young adult lives, with their tribal group dwindled down to only four original members. Mamere and two other young men, “Jeremiah” (Ger Duany) and “Paul,” (Emmanuel Jal) and a young woman “Abital,” (Kuoth Wiel) have been working in the refugee camp for more than a decade. Inspired by clinicians from Doctors Without Borders, they enter their names to go to America and the four of them board a plane to the United States.
Immediately after landing, the group is separated – the boys are allowed their own apartment in Kansas City while Abital is sent to Boston (since no family wants to house a woman refugee). When the boys arrive in Kansas City, the scene shifts abruptly to employment counselor “Carrie” (Reese Witherspoon) in the bedroom with her casual love interest. Although her introduction is slightly melodramatic, an introduction to a star like Reese Witherspoon is somewhat appropriate. Carrie receives a call to pick the boys up and runs off to the airport, pissed off and rushed, to take them back to their rented apartment. After a quick tour, (i.e. “This is the refrigerator. This is how you turn on the lights.”) Carrie leaves the three Sudanese boys looking at each other, wondering: What just happened? Where are we? What is going on?
The film takes a relatively predictable course as gruff Carrie slowly gets attached to the three young men and their transition to the United States by finding jobs. Jeremiah works as a grocery store stock clerk and is offended by all the wasted food, leading to tensions between the casual American attitude toward privileges and the different way a newcomer would view them. Working in a factory, Paul upsets his coworkers with his diligence and efficiency, resulting in him being pushed into a drugged-out haze to slow his progress. Meanwhile, Mamere is the only one who’s going to school and trying to balance his education while tiredly working as a parking attendant. When the boys become concerned with Abital’s absence in their lives, Carrie tries to figure out a solution so they can all be reunited.
The heavy-handed film was very emotional, particularly as the boys reunite with Abital. It tackles the troubles refugees encountered after 9/11, from swapping out passports to changing identification – hence the title, The Good Lie. Overall, the film made important points about the way Americans live and amount of things taken for granted.
Review © Jan Lisa Huttner (10/19/14)
Top Photo: Okwar Jale as “Young Theo” leads his small group of siblings & cousins as they trek from South Sudan towards Kenya.
Bottom Photo from Left: Arnold Oceng (“Mamere”), Emmanuel Jal (“Paul”), & Ger Duany (“Jeremiah”) begin new lives in Kansas City.
Photo Credits: Bob Mahoney
Yes, but it’s a squeaker.
In one funny scene, a kind woman named “Pamela” (Sarah Baker) who is affiliated with a Church sponsor helps “Carrie” (Reese Witherspoon) clean up her mess of an apartment, and afterwards they down a few too many shots of tequila. A warm and wonderful scene. Pamela represents the people of the church fronting the money for refugees to come to the United States. People like her not only provide the bulk of the money, but the hands-on-care for refugees coming from all around the world. It’s impossible to underestimate the hands-on role that people in the church have played in making this possible for immigrants coming into the United States and the good work that they do.
Otherwise, Carrie primarily interacts with the “Lost Boys of Sudan” now turned young men.
Final Photo: Sarah Baker as “Pamela” with Reese Witherspoon as “Carrie,” celebrate the fact that Carrie’s apartment is clean–probably for the very first time!