Blu-ray Review: The Good Lie (2014)

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Great intentions were behind The Good Lie, new on Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital HD from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. Screenwriter Margaret Nagle and director Philippe Falardeau tell the based-in-fact story of a group of Sudanese refugees who arrive in America to begin new lives. Orphaned in the ‘80s as young children during the Second Sudanese, they traveled by foot (with little food or water to sustain themselves) hundreds of miles to a Kenyan refugee camp. There they lived until given the opportunity to relocate. Once in America, an initially blasé job-placement worker, Carrie Davis (Reese Witherspoon), helps the young men find employment.

Good lie 2 (380x253).jpgMarketed largely as a Reese Witherspoon vehicle, despite her strictly supporting role, The Good Lie received great reviews but limited attention during a brief theatrical run. Now that Witherspoon is getting Oscar buzz in the current Wild, Warner stands to gain a great deal with the timing of The Good Lie’s home video release. But for all the great intentions behind the production, the filmmakers were clearly in over their heads. The resulting film is overly sanitized, unfocused, and artlessly clumsy. The whole thing carries the unpleasant aura of a made-for-TV movie, despite some truly awe-inspiring imagery captured on location in South Africa. The PG-13 rating is a hindrance for subject matter that is so disturbing. The depiction of war-torn Sudan is frankly too bloodless to hit with as much impact as it should. That said the scene in which the group of young orphaned friends resorting to drinking urine to survive is wincingly grim.

Good Lie 4 (380x253).jpgAfter the Africa-based opening, we jump ahead to 2001. Once they’ve landed on U.S. soil, the crux of the drama centers on the separation of the sole female friend, Abital (Kuoth Wiel), from Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), and Paul (Emmanuel Jal). The three men are placed in Kansas City while Abital, due to an INS rule that non-blood relatives of opposite gender can’t be housed in the same home, is sent to live in Boston. No one (not even the filmmakers) can offer a coherent explanation of why this rule exists to govern adults. Carrie is, at first, reluctant to invest much in her attempts to find jobs for the guys. Her transition from blithely doing her job to actually caring about their desire to reunite with Abital is sudden and unconvincing. This isn’t really Witherspoon’s fault; the actress gamely strives to develop her character. It’s a shortcoming in the screenwriting.

Good lie 3 (380x253).jpgAs strangers in a strange land, Oceng, Duany, and Jal all offer sensitive performances. But they’re undercut somewhat by the screenplay’s attempts to play some of their culture shock for rather easy laughs. Once some problems are interjected, such as Jeremiah and Paul’s troubles at the grocery store at which they both work, the filmmakers fumble. Jeremiah understandably can’t fathom throwing out food when it’s still edible and raises the ire of the store manager by giving it away to dumpster divers. Paul is introduced to marijuana by his co-workers, raising the concerns of Jeremiah and Mamere. These threads don’t ever develop into a larger portrait of the assimilation process as the young men adapt to American life. In fact, the title is a reference to a subplot that isn't even a factor until late in the film. Once introduced, it unnaturally shifts the focus of the film, making it unclear exactly what story the filmmakers were trying to tell.

Warner’s Blu-ray presentation of The Good Lie offers a technically excellent transfer of Ronald Plante’s cinematography. The material shot in South Africa provides the visual highpoint, with the 1080p resolution really showing off the natural beauty of the land- and sky-scapes. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is even more impressive, especially early on during the much more raucous war scenes. The explosions carry real heft. The score, by Martin Leon, is well-balanced throughout with the dialogue that dominates the second and third acts of the film.

Good Lie 5 (380x253).jpgThe special features a bit light, with only a fluffy 16-minute “making of” featurette (“The Good Lie Journey”) and 15 minutes of deleted scenes (which feature some strange tangents that further emphasize the lack of focus present in the scattershot final cut). The Good Lie Blu-ray Combo Pack also includes a standard DVD and an Ultraviolet digital copy.

The Good Lie takes a noble stab at dramatizing an important subject and by no means is it an outright bad movie. Anyone hoping for a star turn by Reese Witherspoon may be disappointed by her relatively limited screen time. For helping to shed some mainstream light on the plight of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” the filmmakers are to be commended.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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