This is the story of a group of children whose tribe in Sudan is torn apart by war. With the village adults murdered by soldiers, the children are forced to walk hundreds of miles to a refugee camp, eventually emigrating to start a new life in the USA.
The film’s opening third is set in Sudan and focuses on the children’s trek to Ethiopia, and back again when their hopes of finding a safe haven are dashed. Along the way the eldest of the group, Theo (Okwar Jale), gives himself up to soldiers to allow his companions to escape, a fact which tortures his younger brother Mamere (Peterdeng Mongok then Arnold Oceng) in the years that follow. They grow up in a refugee camp and, thirteen years later, get the chance to move to America. The film then sees a change of pace, from a harrowing Rabbit Proof Fence-style tale of survival against the odds, to some classic fish-out-of-water comedy as they get used to their new life.
It may not be a real-life story, but it’s based on the struggles of thousands of real-life ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ who were orphaned by the conflict, and its authenticity shines through even in its more Hollywood-friendly moments. Immigrants and Africa are so widely neglected in our media that it’s refreshing when Western film-makers decide to tell a tale from their perspective.
While immigrants in Western countries are often ignored or demonized, this is a film which, like Dirty Pretty Things, shows an alternative point of view. The stereotype of the immigrant showing up and being handed fistfuls of cash in benefits swiftly evaporates, particularly when we hear that the refugees will be expected to pay the US government back for their flight from the wages they get from stacking shelves.
But where Dirty Pretty Things focused on the unpleasant working and living conditions of those who do some of the lowest-paid jobs in our society, The Good Lie is more about two totally different worlds. The refugees manage to make a reasonable life for themselves in the US, but continue to be traumatised by the past and memories of those they left behind. The Americans they encounter are kind, but know nothing of the circumstances the immigrants have come from.
The film is anchored by the performance of its lead actors, many of them real life refugees from Sudan and, in some cases, former child soldiers. The fact that they have been able to become film stars is in some ways a more incredible tale than the one on-screen. They give the sincere performances of people who have lived what they are acting, meaning we believe every tear of joy and sadness, every embrace and every bit of frustration and anger.
This is a superbly well-acted and thoughtful film that sheds light on an often-ignored group in society. If only there were more like it.