Chill out you cynics who fear that The Good Lie will follow the lead of The Blind Side and draw a halo over the head of a single determined white women for solving the thorny problems of global racism. Not happening. Not here. True, Reese Witherspoon gets star billing. But for a good half hour, The Good Lie doesn’t offer even a glimpse of her character, Carrie Davis, an employment counselor based in Kansas City, Missouri. Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, Oscar nominated for Monsieur Lazhar, focuses, as he should, on the plight of the lost boys (and girls) of the Sudan after brutal militia attacks beginning in 1983 left them orphaned, starving, displaced wanderers.
Yes, the film is based on a true story, Hollywood’s usual shorthand for making things up with impunity. This time the fakery is not so dire. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle (Boardwalk Empire) creates fictional characters, but their situation is all too tragically true. After opening with scenes of violence against these children, the script concentrates on the plight of five of them, including brothers Mamere (Arnold Oceng) and Theo (Okwar Jale) and their sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) who meet up with two brothers, Jeremiah (Ger Duny) and Paul (Emmanuel Jai), and organize a resistance. Mamere, the default chief, is haunted by a sacrifice Theo makes to save the others. The film’s climax allows Mamere, hauntingly played by Oceng, to make his own form of restitution. In America, the first wrenching blow to this makeshift family is when the boys are assigned living quarters in Kansas City, while sister Abital is sent to Boston. That’s when Carrie (Witherspoon) enters their lives, trying to find them jobs in a disciplined if perfunctory manner.
It’s through Carrie’s eyes that we awaken to the enormity of what’s at stake. Witherspoon tackles the role with hip-swinging verve. She’s a livewire. But Carrie and her boss (Corey Stoll) are facilitators, not saviors. The refugees, all played by gifted Sudanese actors, must face the pressures of adjusting to a new world and become the heroes of their own lives. Or not. The lack of`cheeseball overload is refreshing. I could tell the good lie and say the movie is perfect. It’s not. It’s often earnest to a fault and fearful of its deeper, darker implications. Still, you won’t leave The Good Lie unmoved. Its heart really is in the right place.