Michelle Monaghan and Alfred Molina star in the true story of immigration attorney Judy Wood, and how she single-handedly changed the U.S. law of asylum to save women’s lives.
Wood (Monaghan), a successful lawyer, uproots her son to move closer to his father in L.A. In her new position working for a law firm defending immigrants, she finds herself at opposite ethical ends of the spectrum from her boss, Ray Hernandez (Molina). Venturing out on her own, she takes on the case of Asefa (Leem Lubany), a woman detained and set for deportation. It’s an emotional journey as we watch Wood fight for Asefa’s rights and those like her. The film gives us a unique perspective into immigration and the laws surrounding this issue, of particular import today.
“Saint Judy” delicately balances this story, allowing us to see Judy not only as a lawyer, but as a mother, determined to be a role model for her young son. Uprooting him from his familiar surroundings, he struggles as does she, but her strength and perseverance allow them to ford ahead. Her confidence and willingness to sacrifice for the good of others is at the heart of this film, creating a sense of inspiration as we watch her raise her son, deal with an ex-husband, and balance all the aspects of running a law firm. We also feel the overwhelming difference one person can make as Wood attempts to gain asylum for Asefa—it is truly a fight for life and death. And Hernandez quite cavalierly identifies the fact that this case is the ugly duckling with the potential to be the swan, setting precedent for all future and past similar legal cases.
Monaghan’s performance as Wood is clear, strong, and real as she creates a younger yet experienced, but imperfect attorney fighting for what she knows is right. She evokes a sense of true caring in this character, allowing us to understand her position and root for her to win. It’s an intense film punctuating the fact that one person can make a difference.
If you already know this case from history, it doesn’t take away the thrill of the ride especially as we witness the trailer version of a courthouse where Wood argues her case for Asefa. Common portrays the opposing counsel, Benjamin Adebayo, proving that he can give heart to any role he tackles, but Alfre Woodard’s performance as Judge Benton is riveting. Her intelligence in her delivery as well as the cadence of her speech compound her intimidating and compassionate character.
“Saint Judy” hits all the right notes as it explores and demonstrates our own ever-malleable legal system and sets of rules while reminding us of our country’s beginnings and our own humanity. It’s a solid story that is not only timely but also entertaining that just may help you see the entire issue of immigration through a new lens.
3 1/2 out of 4 Stars