Witnessed at the 11th Dubai International Film Festival

Dubai Premiere: Cinema of the World

Written by Ankit Ojha

 

What to Expect

That title is quite some foreshadowing by the way. Just sayin'.

That title is quite some foreshadowing by the way. Just sayin’.

Ever since my first viewing of the rather endearing trailer of the rather acclaimed director Philippe Falardeau’s The Good Lie, I’ve always wanted to catch up with the film, simply because it looked (from its promotional material alone) like the one feel-good movie that wouldn’t insult my intelligence.

But while my expectations definitely had some bias to how I wanted the film seen, there are other factors to this too. Falardeau’s repertoire – at the risk of repeating myself – is a fairly impressive one; the 2011 Academy Award nominated Monsieur Lazhar bearing enough testimony to my statement.

Of course, looking at the cast alone, there’s the ever effervescent Reese Witherspoon, the glimpses of whose free-wheeling performance in the film already sparkle in the trailer. And if that’s not enough, it’s got attached within itself a host of some absolutely bankable names in the form of revered director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) producing the film, teaming up with his Rush co-producer Brian Grazer (The Inside Man), among others.

The only skepticism the expectations veer toward is that the whole film looks too good to be true. But is it?

What’s it About?

When war strikes, there’s more bloodshed and loss than pride. Humanity gets derailed, and the lives of loved ones are lost. But the ones who lose most are the children, orphaned with an almost abrupt blow to their lives, and – possibly – their childhood and innocence.

It is 1983. The Second Sudanese Civil was has arrived – abruptly almost – leaving many children orphaned, and left to their own defenses. These Lost Boys of Sudan walk miles and miles in order to get food and shelter. As the crowds of orphans get smaller and smaller, ending up as unfortunate casualties, the resilient ones – Mamere (Arnold Oceng), his blood sister Abital (Kuoth Wiel), Paul (Emmanuel Jal) and Jeremiah (Ger Duany) – who finally make it to the Kenyan refugee camp, growing up with the hope of a better life.

Their wishes get fulfilled when they win what’s apparently a lucky chance to resettle in the United States of America. This is when they meet the brash Carrie Davis (Witherspoon; Wild), and their lives change.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Legally... NOT Blonde?

Legally… NOT Blonde?

What the content of a film like The Good Lie screams is the demand to realism. Films that tackle hardboiled social issues around the world call for a way somber movie experience than is ultimately shown in this film. What’s expected of films like these is to go the docudrama way – the usual method for the movie to win more critical acclaim. I’ve previously stated my slight disdain of such films trying to tick off all the checkboxes in the to-do list of hard-hitting non-mainstream cinema. It’s not that I abhor all independent films and fresh directors doing things differently than the more mainstream filmmakers; my love for different cinema is quite obsessively the opposite, in fact.

But I do love it when filmmakers don’t include gratuitous doses of pretense in their films. And this Falardeau-directed movie has a very free-wheeling narrative, despite doses of consistent grit and heart-wrenching story arcs in the first half of the movie. Two-time Emmy nominated screenwriter Margaret Nagle balances the sweetness and warmth of the film very well with the raw emotion it has to offer.

There’s a certain authenticity that you see with the on-location shoot of the film throughout its first half, shot in and around Africa rather than cheating it out in the deserts close by, on Falardeau’s insistence. The result, like Molly Mickler Smith – one of the co-producers of this film – has quite eloquently stated whilst encapsulating the making of the movie, is “truly magical; there’s nothing like it.” Cinematographer Ronald Plante (La face cachée de la lune) effectively captures the desolate beauty and the raw atmosphere of the deserts and (sometimes) lone trees around Africa, calling for the dramatic usage of natural light during the daytime in the film’s moving frames. Although this portion of the film looks very much like a documentary, there’s a lot of artistic integrity in the cinematography that brings it right up the feature film alley. What enhances the emotional resonance of this film by a very high extent is the beautiful background score by Martin Leon (The Kids are All Right). Richard Comeau’s heartfelt edit by the film’s second half helps in effectively knitting the film together. Combined with some very strong sound design decisions, the scenes look effectively rousing on a fairly personal level.

The major flaw the potential viewers are to find in this movie can’t really be called a flaw, but is a decision made by the makers as to where and how they’ve wanted to take the film forward. The good news is, despite putting the much required realism on the back-burner (thus veering it into the classic Hollywood tearjerking-drama template), the film still manages to ring very high on emotion, which Falardaeu executes commendably, helped amply by Comeau in knitting it together.

To Perform or Not to Perform

"There's always a party."

“There’s always a party.”

One of the most interesting things the makers have gone for is to have chosen non-actors with firsthand experience in the Sudanese war. This must definitely have been a major risk, considering very well the non-experience in front of the camera. The one with the most experience of the four – Ger Duany (I Heart Huckabees) – does fantastically, and portrays his character of Jeremiah with absolute confidence. Musician and activist Emmanuel Jal has a certain restraint that works perfectly for Paul. Kuoth Wiel exudes confidence in her short role. The real surprise though is Arnold Oceng, who gives a very sincere performance as the brother fighting his demons through and through.

Enter Reese Witherspoon as the almost-protagonist, the driving force behind most of the second half of the film. She does a fantastic job in her role as the disheveled, brash Carrie Davis, and pulls it off like she is Carrie more than anything else. Ample support comes in the form of the warm acts of Corey Stoll and Sarah Baker. The rest are good.

Worth it?

One of the most important questions you – as an audience – have to ask yourself is this: am I expecting a realistic docudrama about the ravaged lives of the Lost Boys of Sudan?

If your answer is in the positive, then this movie might not be for you. Should, however, you know that you’re looking for a warm, feel-good Hollywood drama, being inspired by the many true stories of the refugees, then this is the film for you. Carrying dollops of emotive resonance to a fault, The Good Lie may definitely be a fairly accessible movie to the masses. It, however, doesn’t stop the film from still being a wonderfully crafted, moving drama that consists of fairly effective performances by the cast – particularly Witherspoon, who holds her role through the set of non-actors with utmost ease.

Definitely worth a watch.

Star Rating: 3.5 / 5

The movie had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on the 7th of September this year. It graced the United States of America publicly on the 3rd of October over a limited release. For those who live around the UAE (Dubai, particularly), the movie is to premiere in the Dubai International Film Festival this evening. Should you have missed it, there will be a second screening on Monday, the 15th of this month at Mall of the Emirates, at 02:45pm. If you’re still out of luck, catch it over its public United Arab Emirates release on the 18th this month. For the expectant people in the UK however, the movie will release a tad later, on the 13th of March 2015.

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