The Good Lie (4 stars)

The Good Lie

Moving true-life drama about Sudanese orphans, with Reese Witherspoon

A celebration of decency and humanity, this drama illuminates the ordeal of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the millions of children orphaned and displaced by brutal civil war. As a story of loss, courage and noble deeds inspired by real events it has enough of a feel-good factor to qualify as uplifting but leaves out the mawkish rhubarb that mars too many Hollywood true-life tales. Keeping it real, Canadian Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar) steers an intelligent script by Boardwalk Empire scribe Margaret Nagle through devastating, sombre and joyous incidents with sensitivity, a well-judged tone and eloquent images.

After witnessing the slaughter of their families and the destruction of their village, a group of Sudanese orphans undertake a harrowing journey for survival, walking 800-miles to the comparative safety of a refugee camp in Kenya. Not all of them make it and those who endure form an unbreakable family bond, but after 13-years of hardship in the camp their hopes of building a new life are fading when a humanitarian programme sees them relocated to the strange new world of Kansas City, Missouri.

There is sweet humour in the inevitable fish-out-of-water gags but also sharp edges to the shock of assimilating in alarmingly alien America. Reese Witherspoon, generously spunky in support as employment counsellor Carrie whose own life is changed by her work with the young men, is the Oscar-winning bait producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer hope will hook mainstream audiences into a film whose principal cast are of Sudanese origin, either themselves survivors of the conflict (including former boy soldiers), or the children of refugees. But the central players (chiefly Londoner Arnold Oceng from My Brother the Devil as leader Mamere, Ger Duany as gentle Jeremiah and rapper Emmanuel Jal as traumatised Paul) are charismatic in performances that are natural, movingly dignified and charming, while the children from the beginning of the story are also wonderful. The Good Lie is an honest, honourable film at which there is no shame in shedding tears.

General release from Fri 24 Apr.

The Good Lie

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • US / Kenya / India
  • 1h 50min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
  • Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal, Corey Stoll, Sarah Baker, Kuoth Wiel
  • UK release: 24 April 2015

A group of Sudanese orphans escape the horror of the civil war by walking 800-odd miles to a refugee camp; years later, they are relocated to the USA. Witherspoon gives generous support but the central players (chiefly Oceng, Duany and Jal) are charismatic and moving, as are the children who play their younger selves.