THE GOOD LIE
DIRECTED BY Philippe Falardeau
STARS Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng
Arnold Oceng, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Baker in The Good Lie (Photo: Warner Bros.)
What's this? Do mine eyes deceive me? Here's a movie about a group of minorities that — somebody get me a chair! — actually focuses on the minorities. That's a rarity in Hollywood, about as likely as winning the lottery on one's first attempt. After all, these sorts of films invariably spend more time with the camera focused on a saintly Caucasian and his or her petty woes than anything else. In Million Dollar Arm, the cultural assimilation of two Indian lads (Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal) newly arrived in the U.S. can't begin to compare to an American's (Jon Hamm) inability to order Papa John's in India. In The Blind Side, the homelessness of a painfully shy black man (Quentin Aaron) can't begin to compare to the naughty country-club gossip endured by the white woman (Sandra Bullock) who shelters him. And in Cry Freedom, the murder of South African activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington) can't begin to compare to a white journalist's (Kevin Kline) search for a comfortable pair of slippers.
OK, I'm fibbing about the slippers, but the point stands. That's why The Good Lie proves to be such a pleasant surprise. Reese Witherspoon may receive top billing and be the star plastered larger-than-life on the posters, but her role is actually a supporting one: She doesn't even appear until the 35-minute mark, and after that, she's off-screen for large chunks of time. Instead, scripter Margaret Nagle (Boardwalk Empire) and director Philippe Falardeau (Canada's Oscar-nominated Monsieur Lazhar) steadfastly keep their attention where it belongs, on three of The Lost Boys of Sudan, children who journey thousands of miles seeking safety as their country is embroiled in a bloody civil war. As Mamere, Jeremiah and Paul become adults (and are superbly played at this point by real Sudanese refugees Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal), they are sent to America to start new lives — a difficult task as they dwell upon the horrors of the past, cope with stateside eccentricities and seek to be reunited with Mamere's sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel), who ended up with a family in Boston while the three men toil in Kansas City, Missouri.
Witherspoon, who's having quite the movie week (she also co-produced Gone Girl), and Corey Stoll are fine as two of the people who help the immigrants secure jobs and residency. Their characters aren't particularly filled out, and that's OK, since it allows the picture to focus on what's important: the horrors of war, the end of innocence, and the hope of a better life just over the horizon.