Christopher Quinn's documentary God Grew Tired Of Us has the same problem as Infamous, last year's account of how Truman Capote came to write In Cold Blood. Both are good movies that happen to share their subject matter with even better movies that came out not very long ago. Like 2003's Lost Boys Of Sudan, God Grew Tired of Us begins with the story of the Sudanese children who, early in the twenty-year Sudanese civil war that began in the mid-1980s, made thousand-mile treks on foot to relief camps in Kenya to avoid being killed or sterilized, and then follows a few of the lucky ones who, now college age, have been relocated in America. (The principals here resettled in Syracuse, NY.) The new film is a National Geographic co-production that also lists Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener, and Dermot Mulroney among its producers and includes voiceover narration by Nicole Kidman, all of which may make it seem like the documentary equivalent of a Disney remake of a popular foreign film. Despite its title, God Grew Tired is a gentler, softer look at the subject than Lost Boys Of Sudan, but even viewers who appreciated that movie's tough mind and hard edge may find themselves charned by this one. It's hard to resist any documentary that includes a bunch of heartbreakingly polite, sweet-natured young men who've been sleeping on the ground for practically their entire lives being shown their new lodgings and patiently being instructed in how to work a light switch.
The movie's special strength is definitely in the interviews and candid moments that give the viewer a chance to get to know the boys as individuals, especially as the years go by and cute questions about Santa Claus' specific connection to the birth of Jesus are replaced by observations about how the apparent isolation and unfriendliness of American life breeds alienation. (Racism is only suggested in passing, in shots of pasty middle-aged whites glowering in apparent dismay as the boys check out a supermarket or chat with a bunch of little girls at a public swimming pool, and when it's mentioned that, in response to complaints made to the police, it's "suggested" to the boys that they might not want to always travel together as a group.) The de facto star of the film is the tall, slightly wall-eyed John Dao, who grows ever more impressive over time, developing from a kid working two or three jobs at a time (and sending the bulk of his savings back home) to a self-possessed, charismatic man who delivers speeches at public forums demanding that the United States take a role in combatting African genocide. The climax to the story comes when Dao is reunited in an airport with his mother, who he had long since given up for dead and had only recently learned was still alive. It's a triumphant moment of the kind that most self-respecting fiction filmmakers would never have the nerve to attempt to put on film. Three stars