The Good Lie: Substitionary Atonement (DVD Review)

In Huckleberry Finn, Huck lies to keep the ex-slave Jim from being discovered and recaptured. This is a “good lie,” one which doesn’t actually benefit Huck but which is committed selflessly to protect someone else. It’s the ‘hook’ or spin of Margaret Nagle’s (Red Band Society) screenplay about some of the Lost Boys of the Sudan who were brought over to the United States as refugees in the early twenty-first century. Mix that into a concoction with survivor’s guilt, lively acting, and humor, and the end result is a feel good film with heart and soul.

The headline here is Reese Witherspoon as the job placement manager who ‘receives’ three Sudanese men, Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), and Paul (Emmanuel Jal), who have survived miles of barefoot travel, the death of their families, and degrading survival tactics to arrive there. But it’s these three actors who make the movie shine – two of whom actually were LBoS. It’s these men who show us what it was like to survive lions and guerrilla warriors, drinking carbonation for the first time, and adapting to the capitalistic nature of American society.

It’s these three men, as characters and actors, who show us that our moral compass might need to be retuned.

While the film itself was slow at times, the build of this thoughtful indie reaches a point where it’s nearly impossible to ignore the palpable tension, the sadness, and the joy, that these men, and their displaced sister (Kuoth Wiel) experience throughout their time in America. And there’s a twist that comes in the fifth act of the film that brings ‘the good lie’ to the forefront, that makes us recognize that the choices we make, the people we help, and the people we care for are more important than the trivial things we often grasp onto in an attempt to control our lives.

Like the moment when Katniss steps forward in The Hunger Games for her sister, or Louie Zamperini allows himself to be hammered relentlessly to keep others from being hurt by the Bird in Unbroken, or the way that Jesus takes our sins to the cross, characters in The Good Lie must choose how they are going to take someone else’s pain (or not) to save them.

In the end, the film shows us a side of the world we don’t often get to see, with a story that will have you considering whether you’re living for yourself or living … a good lie.


About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at,, and the brand new
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