Fictionalizing a true-life story has many pitfalls, but The Good Lie dodges most of them as it creates a genuinely moving drama, unapologetically wearing its heart on its sleeve. If you want a “pure” version of this material, check out Lost Boys of Sudan (2003) or God Grew Tired of Us (2006). But since most moviegoers don’t seek out documentaries, this studio production, with Reese Witherspoon in a key role, will bring the heart-rending story of the Sudanese immigrants to a much wider audience.
It’s difficult to imagine all that the “lost boys” have endured, fleeing from brutal violence in their war-ravaged villages, losing their parents and closest family members, walking thousands of miles to find a safe haven, then being airlifted to the United States and a way of life that nothing could prepare them for.
Working with largely inexperienced African-born actors, director Philippe Falardeau (who gave us the beautiful Monsieur Lazhar) manages to make scripted scenes seem genuine and unrehearsed. When Witherspoon enters the picture it’s momentarily jarring, but her character is well defined, and her transformation from uncaring employment agency worker to loyal ally is believably drawn.
Opportunities for sentiment abound, but Falardeau holds them in check until the final portion of the film when—I freely admit—I cried several times. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle interviewed many Sudanese survivors and synthesized their stories into her straightforward narrative. It’s humbling to witness the saga of the Lost Boys (so well played by Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, and Kuoth Wiel, as their sister) and realize that thousands of them live among us here in America.
The only thing I don’t like about The Good Lie is its title, which wouldn’t inspire me to go out and see it. Please don’t let it put you off; this is a solid and rewarding film.