“I’m just supposed to help them find jobs.”
Although I don’t outright refuse to watch The Blind Side, I don’t think I have ever enjoyed the movie. It’s superficial to a fault and masks it’s deserving source material with watered down theatrics. Sandra Bullock plays the great white hope, the only saving grace for an otherwise clueless, bumbling, and alienated character. You wouldn’t be alone in expecting the same artless and phony results from The Good Lie. After all, with multiple producers from the undeserving ’09 Best Picture nominee, that’s what I anticipated. To my delight, I sat through a good but not great movie that was totally unafraid to to show us a reality that is believably authentic, even if only for a short while.
Reese Witherspoon may be the face of the poster, but that doesn’t mean this is her movie or her story (unlike The Blind Side…can you tell I think that’s overrated?) In fact, she doesn’t show up until roughly 40 minutes in. The opening act introduces us to the Sudanese characters as children. We watch their interactions and way of life, see them escape deadly rebels, bare witness to their grueling trek towards a Kenyan refugee camp. The PG-13 rating comes as a surprise, primarily because this holds nothing back during it’s opening third, which makes it the most enjoyable and sincere part of the film.
Now in their early twenties, the pack has dwindled down to a foursome. Mamere (Arnold Oceng), an aspiring doctor, is appointed chief after the eldest Theo (Femi Oguns) sacrificed himself for the group to join the rebels. Abital (Kuoth Wiel) is Mamere’s kin. Jeremiah (Ger Duany) carries a Bible with him and praises God, even in their darkest hours. The most stubborn is Paul (Emmanuel Jal), a guy who’s good with his hands but is fed up with taking orders. I feel ashamed to juxtapose such complex characters to this, but for the sake of understanding, think of these four as the Ninja Turtles. Each individual matches one of those archetypes to a T. Watch the movie and you’ll understand what I mean.
Abital is separated from the men and sent to Boston, leaving the three in the hands of their employment agency counselor Carrie (Witherspoon) in good old Kanas MO. Carrie’s unmarried, without children, and lives in a pigsty of a home. The Budweiser drinkin’ woman tries to rattle through the hiring process and forget these strange, unworldly young men. But then she starts to care for them, even look out for their well-being, and I never knew why. Unlike the three male leads, Carrie is too hollow and insubstantial to understand. The movie get’s sweet and sentimental and at times even funny, but it’s loses all dramatic steam. The director Philippe Falardeau seems to have shot two entirely different films.
While in Sudan, the movie is everything it needs to be and everything that I didn’t expect. It reminded me of Ishmael Beah’s powerful and haunting memoir A Long Way Gone (give it a read. It’ll move you beyond words). Then once it gets into America, the drama becomes laughter at the expense of the Lost Boys’ failed attempts at assimilation. At times they’re almost cast as cavemen, stupefied by light switches and dumbfounded by the concept of a telephone. Mamere might as well tell his Kansan pals, “Guys, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Sudan anymore.” Once all of that subsides, we’re still invested in these people because of the detailed script and respectable performances. The Good Lie stoops lower to it’s audience than it should have, but it never demeans the characters or their harrowing story. Check your pulse if you don’t find yourself smiling once the credits roll.
“…but what is more important is that it’s an unselfish lie…”
Rating: 3 out of 5