It's impossible to fathom walking a thousand miles through enemy-infested territory to gain your freedom. But this is exactly what a group of children, who became known as "The Lost Boys", did during the violent Civil war in Sudan, which began in 1983.
Mamere (Peterdeng Mongok) and his brother Theo (Okwar Jale) as children, before the war, lived with their family in a village in Southern Sudan. Their father was the chief. But after their parents are murdered, Theo becomes the leader of a small group of children, including their sister Abital. As they navigate their way to the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, they meet and travel with hundreds of others, including Jeremiah and Paul --- only a few will make it.
Thirteen years later, Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Abital (Nyakuoth Wiel) are given an opportunity to emigrate to America, but the young men are sent to Kansas, and Abital must go to Boston. They enlist the aid of their employment agency contact, Carrie (Reese Witherspoon) and her boss, Jack (Corey Stoll) in their efforts to bring Abital to Kansas.
Duany and Jal were actual child soldiers in the Sudan. Both managed to survive, with Duany escaping to Ethiopia, and eventually Kenya, where he was relocated to the United States at age sixteen. Remarkably Jal became a prominent hip hop artist, with two of his songs on the film's soundtrack.
"The Good Lie" is so positive in many ways, it may actually be hard to believe. But, 3600 girls and boys were brought to the U.S., many of whom spoke no English and had no clue about snow, our culture --- anything, really. Their survival here, and assimilation into our society, is another tribute to these young adults.
When Mamere, Jeremiah and Paul first arrive, they have no idea what they're supposed to do, or how things work --- like the telephone. Much of this is very amusing, and it also highlights how often we take the simple things in our daily lives for granted. Watching these guys pray before their first pizza out of a box, eating pads of butter out of the foil --- even taking a bath --- all of these little acts demonstrate how fortunate we are --- and how shocked and overwhelmed they were.
Witherspoon and Stoll are quite good, as always, but this is all about the refugees. Oceng, Duany, Jal and Wiel are incredibly moving. The fact that director Philippe Falardeau chose real-life Sudanese immigrants to portray these characters is a true testament to the power of this amazing story --- and their miraculous will to survive.
Screenwriter Margaret Nagle ("Boardwalk Empire") has penned a moving and haunting script --- also a funny one, at times. "The Good Lie" is beautifully photographed by Ronald Plante, with a lovely score by Martin Leon.
Opinion: See It Now!
Based on actual events, "The Good Lie" tells the story of four friends, including a brother and a sister, who travel on foot for several months through the Sudanese desert to escape the horrors of their country's genocide. They are eventually selected to emigrate to the United States where they will be assimilated into the American culture.
Mamere (Arnold Oceng) and his sister Abital (Nyakuoth Wiel) are joined by Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal). The three young men are flown to Kansas City where a job placement officer, Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), works hard to find them employment. Abital, the sister of Mamere, unwanted by anyone in Kansas City, is separated from the only people she knows, ending up in Boston.
A good part of the film is devoted to Carrie and others, including her boss, Jack (Corey Stoll), taking great pains to try and reunite Abital with her brother and her friends. There is also a steady stream of unlikely humor as they attempt to adapt to a new and very different life.
When the phone rings in their humble apartment, they think it's an alarm going off. Instead of sleeping in their regular beds, they remove the mattresses and lay them on the floor side-by-side-by-side, where they are more comfortable. And after the men are settled in at their new home, they howl at the retelling of the "chicken crossing the road" joke. It's quite endearing.
The cast features three real-life survivors of the Sudanese Civil war in Wiel, Duany and Jal. All moved to the U.S. at early ages, and director Philippe Falardeau selected them for the supporting roles in his film. Oceng, the lead actor, is a native of British Uganda, and he has, at age 26, an impressive acting resume. "The Good Lie" is actually Wiel's movie debut, while Jal was the sole subject of a 2008 documentary called "War Child", and Duany was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan in a 2003 doc of the same name.
It's a very good film, with some genuinely poignant moments. Witherspoon does just what she should do in this movie, that is, play a supporting and supportive character. She never tries to take over any of her scenes. Her performance meshes perfectly with the plight of the refugees.
The movie's title refers to a passage from "Huckleberry Finn", of all places. This we learn from Mamere as he quotes from Mark Twain's prose in an English class he is taking. It's a brief scene, but typical of the quality work in "The Good Lie" from Emmy-nominated screenwriter Margaret Nagle.
Opinion: See It Now!