Saint Judy (AU - M/US - PG-13)

In a word: Riveting

Saint Judy

Judy Wood (played by Michelle Monaghan) and Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany) in Saint Judy. 

Amid debates in nations like the US, Australia and the UK over immigration numbers, secure borders and "turning back the boats", it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that there are real people - with real stories - behind the policies. Saint Judy takes the audience behind the data by telling the true story of one Afghani woman's struggle to find a new home in the US and that of the lawyer who helped her.

The story centres on Judy Wood (played by Michelle Monaghan), a hot shot public defender from Albuqueque, New Mexico, who has to move to LA with her young son, Alex (Gabriel Bateman), due to shared custody requirements following a divorce.

"A heart-wrenching and riveting story about the battle to fight for the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable women."

Arriving in LA, she takes up a job working for an extremely cynical immigration lawyer Ray Hernandez (Alfred Molina) which, while short-lived, brings her into contact with Afghan asylum-seeker Asefa Ashwari (Leem Lubany).

Ashwari, founder of a school for girls in her native country, was seized by the Taliban for being on the streets without the company of a man and imprisoned briefly, before, following her release, her friends smuggled across the border to Pakistan. Flying out to the US, she lived there with her uncle before she was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

It's while handling her case that Wood, with the aid of her rich-kid intern Parker (Ben Schnetzer), starts to take on those of other people she encounters through the detention centre where Ashwari is being held. Setting up her own immigration law practice, she embarks on a fight for justice in a system that is stacked against those its supposed to help and ends up changing the system for the better.

This is a compelling story of the harsh realities of the immigration system in action as it assesses cases based on strictly defined terms. We see here the difficulties of such systems trying to - and often failing - to comprehend the complexities surrounding the decisions of those who have fled their homelands in the hope of a new life free from fear but how, at great cost to all involved, the systems can be changed for the better.

Monaghan (and the name 'Saint Judy' turns out to be a derogatory term that ultimately gets turned on its head) gives a strong performance as the lawyer Wood, struggling to look after her young son and navigate the new world of immigration law, while Lubany's portrayal of asylum seeker Asefa Ashwari is deeply moving. They're well back up by a strong supporting cast which includes ICE lawyer Benjamin Adebayo (Common), doctor Dikembe Mustafa (Mykelti Williamson) and Judge Benton (Alfre Woodard).

A heart-wrenching and riveting story about the battle to fight for the lives of some of the world's most vulnerable women.

A portion of the proceeds from this weekend's cinema showing of the film in Australia (from 20th to 24th August) will contribute directly to the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. For more information on the Australian release, see www.saintjudy.com.au.