The story opens (and closes) with immigration dept police officer Max Brogan (Harrison Ford) and his team raiding a sweatshop for illegal, mainly Hispanic immigrants. One of those is a young mother, Mexican Maria Sanchez, whose plight strikes a chord with him and the good cop gets personally involved.
Most of the other stories are equally compelling in their own way, with foreign nationals of many different countries coming to terms with their impending US citizenship or just trying to attain it. There is the pretty Australian actress who finds herself on the casting couch of fantastically sleazy Ray Liotta in return for her green card. The African toddler, still waiting for her new mommy whilst her real one dies of AIDS. The atheist "Jew" pretending to be an Orthodox to qualify on religious grounds. The Korean student dragged into an armed robbery the day before his citizenship ceremony. Brogan's partner himself is caught up in his own tragedy when his Iranian family take action against the black sheep of the family, the daughter who is too Western for the father's liking. He has a choice to make and is not an easy one.
Probably most dramatic is the Iraqi daughter who stands up in class to express her "understanding" of the 9/11 terrorists. It is not a hundred per cent clear whether she is a Jihadist supporter or just a Muslim who wants to understand more - we have to make up our own minds but the results are tragic and if you're a movie cryer you'll need a full box of tissues for that one.
Ford carries the film extremely well, trying hard to "out-gruff" Clint Eastwood's Walt Lebowski at times. There are other similarities to Gran Torino here but this is no bad thing and if you enjoyed that film you will love this. He does not need his whip and hat or even a Wookie to make great movies as this proves. You know what you are getting with Liotta, and despite some dodgy looking facial work, his smaller role is just as watchable as he takes advantage of his position while his immigration lawyer wife works on the good side.
Some get their card, some don't. Some who already have "status" find it is not the answer to all their problems. It is a fragile web of human life that depicts all the emotions and desperation of people who want to better themselves, who make mistakes or just plain want to survive. This is no popcorn movie, it is sometimes slow and often tragic. It tells the stories without preaching, is fantastically made and I loved it.