“Lost Boys” discover electricity…(left to right) Arnold Oceng, Emmanuel Jal, Ger Duany
“THE GOOD LIE” My rating: B+ (Opening wide on Oct. 3)110 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13
Look past the sex, violence and escapism, and you’ll find that Hollywood still is capable of telling genuinely moving and positive stories.
“The Good Lie,” a small epic about the generation of uprooted Sudanese children known as the Lost Boys, is one such humanistic triumph.
Covering more than 20 years and, while fictionalized, based on the true stories of these young refugees, the film is a low-keyed wonder, filled with moments likely to tighten the throat and unplug the tear ducts.
In hands less skilled than those of director Philippe Falardeau (of the French Canadian import “Monsieur Lazhar”) and screenwriter Margaret Nagle it could have been a treacly affair of the movie-of-the-week variety. Instead it reminds me of Philip Noyce’s 2002 “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” a minor classic about Australian aborigine children on the run from a government bent on civilizing them.
Featuring a totally convincing cast of real Sudanese refugees and their American-born children (several from the KC area), the film gets a bit of star power in the form of Reese Witherspoon as a good-timing Kansas City woman who is sucked into their story.
But what nails the viewer to the wall is not just the knowledge that this astonishing saga is inspired by real events, but that it has been repeated over and over in the lives of the 3,600 Lost Boys who barely escaped from war-torn Sudan and found their ways to a new life in America.
In a sense this is two stories populated by different casts playing the same characters.
The film’s first half hour introduces us to village life in southern Sudan in the early 1980s and the civil war — fueled by religious and ethnic enmities — that leaves a handful of children orphaned and on an incredible 800-mile trek to safety in Kenya.
The oldest is only 13 or so, the youngest perhaps five. They endure heat and weather — it means drinking their own urine — dodge the soldiers scouring the countryside, cross a river dotted with bloating corpses, battle a pair of cheetahs for a chance to gnaw down on the big cats’ recent kill. Not all of them will make it. Their bodies will be left behind under the stunted brush in the midst of a vast, primordial landscape.
These opening scenes are both visually beautiful and dramatically harrowing. The oldest boy, Theo, by default the “chief” of the small band, saves the younger travelers by giving himself up to an enemy patrol. The smaller children trek on, until they finally reach a Kenyan camp packed with 100,000 refugees of the Sudanese diaspora.
Jump ahead 13 years. After more than a decade of waiting some of the children, the lucky ones, are picked to be flown to the U.S. where they will begin their lives anew. Three young men — Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany) and Paul (Emmanuel Jal) — and Mamere’s sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel) find themselves aboard a jet liner for the first time.
Upon arriving in the US, though, they are told that while the boys will proceed to Kansas City, Abital has been taken in by a family in Boston. Nobody in KC was willing to adopt a Sudanese girl. The boys vow that they will find a way to be reunited with their “sister.”
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