not exactly what you'd call a faith-based film. Instead, faith is an undercurrent – a plot element that is not used to move the story along or provide a deus ex machina
The Good Lie
Director: Philippe Falardeau
Writer: Margaret Nagle
Stars: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Kuoth Wiel
Alcon Entertainment / Image Entertainment / Black Label Media
The Good Lie, directed by Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar), has elements of faith and hope strung throughout the entire story but is not exactly what you'd call a faith-based film. Instead, faith is an undercurrent – a plot element that is not used to move the story along or provide a deus ex machina that miraculously makes everything work out fine at the end. It's a story that centers around the bravery and determination of a small band of survivors from the civil war in Sudan who become transplanted to America after becoming refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. It's also a story about how their love and dedication to one another as strangers in a strange land affects the lives of those around them – in particular, that of the self-sufficient employment agency counselor, Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), who (along with a worker from a faith-based charity group) not only helps them find jobs but introduces them to brand-new concepts such as light switches, beds with mattresses, telephones, and readily-available running water.
The film starts out with the principals as children, experiencing an otherwise normal day in the fields of their village, have their lives disrupted by the chaos of a northern militia attack destroying their homes and killing their parents. A group of five children run away from the village together in an effort to survive by making the difficult trek to Kenya, where they've been told they'd be able to find a safe haven. The thousand-mile walk to safety is barely endurable, full of danger from various sources, lack of water, and general exposure. The five becomes four as leader and chief-by-default, Theo, is seen by military forces and taken away while the other children – Mamere, Paul, Jeremiah, and Theo's younger sister, Abital – remain hidden in the tall grass. The group of four eventually make it to the safety of the refugee camp and then eventually are chosen to find a haven in the United States, the three young men being sent to Kansas City, Missouri – Abital is separated from the three boys to be sent to a foster home in Boston.
The heart of the film is seeing how these courageous 'lost boys' cope with life in a land of undreamed-of opportunity all the while hoping for a chance to reunite with Abital and trying to cope with the fact that Theo essentially gave his life up so that they could survive.
While the subject matter is heavy, Falardeau makes his characters real (the story is a composite of many true stories) and infuses moments of humor – usually originating from cultural anomalies between the boys and the Carrie Davis character. The hand-held camera work often lends a documentary feeling to the film, which works especially well in the African portions – the opening scenes are especially effective as we're immersed in a dangerous and explosive Sudan. The two sets of actors, playing the principals as children and then, thirteen years later, leaving the camp as young adults, are mostly recruited from the displaced Sudanese community in the U.S. and abroad and bring a sense of reality and genuineness to the roles.
The heroism of the children is obvious and, thankfully, there are no real villains in the film (unless you count the evils of war as a villain). The Witherspoon character is neither cruel or overly self-sacrificing, although she does 'get involved' in trying to help the boys eventually reunite with their beloved Abital. There are no grand moments of revelation – no dramatic spiritual conversions – just people trying to help people. The opening moments of life in Sudan show the presence of Bibles (at least one) in the tribe, and the main characters are depicted as having a strong belief in God and a knowledge of scripture. The grown-up Jeremiah, at one point, happily announces that he's teaching Sunday School at a local church.
Good acting, excellent cinematography, a moving story, an effective score, and crisp editing keep this story moving along and enjoyable. There's a small side-plot involving a Paul being side-tracked into light drug use that seems like it could have been left out of the film in favor of (*SPOILER ALERT*) extra drama being created in the eventual reuniting of Mamere, Jeremiah, Paul, and Abital with Theo - who did, in fact, survive and had been making his own effort to try to contact his comrades. The drug side-plot could have been replaced (in my opinion) by scenes showing Theo's frustrated attempts to contact Mamere.
The Good Lie is a good film and a reminder of what we have and what's really important.