Sunday, December 21, 2014

Video review: "The Good Lie"

Reese Witherspoon is the star of "The Good Lie," but she's not the main character. In fact, she's rather off to the side and in the background, which is where she belongs.

That's not a knock on Witherspoon's appeal as a movie star, which is considerable. It's just that this is a film about Sudanese refugees, and I'm glad director Philippe Falardeau and screenwriter Margaret Nagle chose to keep their focus on the African characters. Too many movies of this ilk feel compelled to tell black stories through the unnecessary prism of a white protagonist.

The real main character is Mamere (Arnold Oceng), the leader of a ragtag group of refugees from the Sudanese civil war who end up being placed in Kansas City to start new lives. These young men, who literally grew up fighting lions and tigers, find themselves helpless against the modern challenges of bus routes, telephone answering machines and the like.

The other two main figures are Jeremiah (Ger Duany), who flirts with the idea of entering the priesthood, and Paul (Emmanuel Jal), who is a savant with machines but has trouble keeping his impulses under control. They also have a "sister," Abital (Kuoth Wiel), forced to live in a faraway city.

Witherspoon plays Carrie, a social worker put in charge of helping them out. Over time, she finds herself drawn ever more into their lives, becoming friends rather than just part of her job.

The most powerful section of the movie is the first half-hour, as we follow the characters as young children trekking hundreds of miles across the African continent to find sanctuary. I won't give away what happens, other than to say the events are life-changing and have a profound impact on their progress in America.

Though the proceedings occasionally wander into sappy territory, "The Good Lie" is a heartfelt story told well and true. The movie didn't sell a lot of tickets, but hopefully will find the audience it deserves on video.

Extra features are rather slight, and are confined to the Blu-ray edition. They include deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.



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