There’s an urgency and a poignancy to the timing of this fact-based drama. With the current president and his base bent on creating border walls, Saint Judy is the eye-opening story of Los Angeles lawyer Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan) and her dogged efforts on behalf of immigrants, especially women, seeking political asylum in the US due to the threat of violence and murder in the patriarchal countries they fled.
Owing a bit to Erin Brockovich, the film opens with the idealistic but results-driven lawyer Wood leaving Albuquerque with her young son for LA so they boy can live closer to his father, Wood’s ex. Moving with her son into a cramped apartment, Wood has barely unpacked when she takes a demanding job as an immigration lawyer. Alfred Molina plays her I-was-once-like-you-but-now-I’m-a-realist boss, expecting Wood to move the glut of cases dispassionately along. Soon, Wood opens her own modest storefront in the barrio, assisting numerous immigrants who face deportation, including an Afghan woman, Asefa (Leem Lubany).
Wood learns that Asefa started a school for girls in Afghanistan where she was targeted by the Taliban. She was arrested, jailed and raped and now seeks asylum in the US Wood argues, in a ramshackle trailer in front of a sympathetic judge (Alfre Woodard), that if Asefa is forced to return to Afghanistan, she will likely be the victim of an honor killing by her father, a tribal leader, and brothers. Wood’s efforts, we learn, helped change laws for women seeking political asylum in the US.
The film follows formula but it’s a compelling story and Monaghan’s solid performance makes Wood a complex and relatable character. In the film’s last shot, we see the real Judy Wood, which is a nice touch. She’s no saint — she’s a flesh and blood woman passionate about social justice who worked hard to make sure it benefitted others.