REVIEW: The Good Lie

2 12 2014

The Good LieThe poster for “The Good Lie” features the film’s subjects, three Lost Boys of the Sudan, collectively assuming the same amount of space as Reese Witherspoon’s glistening face.  This ratio, shockingly, does not apply to screen time.  Despite needing the Oscar-winner’s clout to sell the film, Witherspoon and the rest of the American characters (including Corey Stoll from “House of Cards”) are firmly peripheral figures.

The only thing “The Good Lie” shares with “The Blind Side,” another tale of black triumph over a devastating history, is an executive producer.  The film’s story, as crafted by screenwriter Margaret Nagle, casts the white American characters less as enablers of black progress and more as an impediment to it.  Witherspoon’s Carrie, an employment counselor, and host Pamela (Sarah Baker) do not lack in good intentions; they are just not particularly well-equipped to meet the complex needs of the Sudanese refugees.

Director Phillipe Falardeau does not shy away from depicting what exactly the Lost Boys Mamere, Jeremiah, and Paul have fled.  “The Good Lie” spends a good thirty minutes driving home the horrors of the Sudanese war, showing everything from the slaughter of a village to the grueling walk on which a pack of surviving children have to embark to find safety.  Falaradeau never reduces their harrowing journey to saccharine tragedy, largely because the barbarism speaks for itself.  The sight of a dead child and turgid bodies floating down a river requires no supplementary cue to inspire shock and sadness.

While they may not face imminent threats to their survival after their rescue, the refugees still face hardships at the hands of an unfeeling system.  An inane regulation prohibits their sister Abital from living with the Lost Boys, and they are not made aware of this until airport authorities enforce their painful separation.  And as if the bureaucracy they must encounter to correct it was not unfeeling enough, the Lost Boys encounter employer after employer with no respect for the incredible pain they have suffered.

“The Good Lie” is the rare film that grants displaced people agency in the overcoming of their circumstances.  The Lost Boys can claim responsibility for their own success, owing little to self-serving whites with a savior complex.  When they tell Carrie at one point that her fighting on their behalf is unnecessary because it is not her war, a statement that resonates powerfully on behalf of marginalized communities.  Unfortunately, the narrative sputters out too much in the third act to allow the movie to have the same effect.  B-2stars

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