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Review: The Good Lie (TIFF 2014)

The Good Lie (TIFF 2014)
09.12.2014
6 10

PLOT: Four Sudanese refugees are brought to the United States, where they struggle to adapt to a society that seems alien to them with the help of a brash employment agent (Reese Witherspoon).

REVIEW: THE GOOD LIE is the kind of movie that's essentially critic proof. It has such good intentions, with it shining a light on the real-life “Lost Boys of the Sudan” where millions of displaced refugees were forced to flee their homes due to war only to end up in refugee camps. There they have to exist in a state of limbo until winning a lottery that gives them a chance at a new life abroad. THE GOOD LIE is concerned mostly with how the refugees are able to establish themselves in their new home, where they have to quickly find jobs in order to repay the aid they receive – right down to the cost of the plane ticket. It's an important film, but is it an especially good one?

Yes and no. THE GOOD LIE is half-good. The first section of the film, which follows four refugees as they march hundreds of miles to the refugee camps is intriguing enough that it could have made for a good film itself rather than just a short stretch of screen time. Once the refugees, played by Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Kuoth Wiel & Emmanuel Jal (all of whom are excellent), reach America it becomes more your typical big studio fare, with the focus shifting far too often to Reese Witherspoon, who plays their smack-talking, tough-chick employment officer in a part that seems like a clone of the role Sandra Bullock played in THE BLIND SIDE.

This is where the film becomes troublesome. I get the need to put a big-time American star in a movie like this, but the role feels so tacked on and only there to exploit the mainstream America, “feel-good”, fish-out-of-water aspects of the film. Witherspoon is OK, but it's such a thinly conceived part, although luckily she's not quite as prominent as the poster or trailers suggest. Still, her parts of the movie could have easily been spent fleshing out the conflicts faced by the refugees, with one of the guys, Mamere (Oceng) being the son of a chief and struggling with feelings of guilt and responsibility towards his adopted brothers and sister, having an especially intriguing arc. He wants to be a doctor but quickly finds himself working menial jobs in the US to pay back his aid, although don't think the film is especially critical of the process of bringing these people over. Rather, the big problem depicted here is shown to be the red-tape as a result of September 11th (the four came over in early 2001) which led to many Sundanese “Lost Boys” languishing when the program was put on hiatus. All this is a lot more interesting than Witherspoon's flirtations with her hunky boss (Corey Stoll – who's actually quite good) or comic relief moments with the goofy Mormon aid-worker.

Still, all things considered Quebec director Phillipe Falardeau, who proved himself a master at tugging heartstrings with his Best Foreign Film Oscar-nominee MONSIEUR LAZHAR, does a good job taking a tough story and turning it into a mainstream film. While many of us may disagree with the Witherspoon character being shoe-horned in, it can't be denied that it's somewhat of a necessity (sadly enough) as it'll pull a wide audience into a film that has an important message. While as a film it's only so-so, it serves a purpose, which is more than can be said for a lot of studio product these days. THE GOOD LIE's heart is in the right place.

Source: JoBlo.com

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