The law is black and white and without compassion, and as they say, Justice is blind. So I guess either way one could get basically screwed if you end up on the wrong side of the equation. For illegal immigrants, the strict policy we have here is a jail term, plus caning, and deportation. We could argue the merits and demerits of punishment, but that's for a totally different post altogether. How this ties in with the movie, is because it set me thinking a bit about the treatment one could provide should you find yourself in a similar situation as the protagonist Walter (Richard Jenkins).
A professor who's walking wounded since his wife passed away, he's what one would immediately label as going through the motions, without putting his heart into his work or life itself, coasting through just because he can. On a conference trip back to New York, he gets surprised when he finds a couple living in his apartment, and illegal immigrants from Syria and Senegal at that, but an inkling of compassion show toward them made him retract his initial intention to throw them out. Thus begins an uneasy friendship that gets improved through Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his love for music and the drums, much to the dismay of Tarek's lover Zainab (Danai Gurira)
Slowly, through friendship, Walter's life begins to fill with true meaning, and we observe his opening up to the world, and extending that compassion even to Tarek's mom Mouna (Hiam Abbass), which also develops into the inevitable romance. It's akin to Yes Man, where the protagonist finds himself presented with opportunities which he would have thought to be impossible if he had maintained his old grumpy attiude, instead of embracing a new one due to conscious change.
If there's a gripe here, that will be how the music of the African drums wasn't really allowed to be showcased fully. We have little chances of grooving to the beats, though of course these mini-concerts weren't the main plot point, which you will find yourself tapping your feat to. However there's nothing that could take away the excellent acting by the cast, especially Richard Jenkins in playing Walter, whom we see basically transforming into someone living life full of meaning. Haaz Sleiman also played Tarek with aplomb, where you can sense his fear and dread of being forgotten, or casted aside. Hiam Abbass as the mom took over midway through the movie in the interaction with Walter, and I thought was extremely competent in her role as a mother who wants to be close to her son, nevermind if there are physical barriers placed between them.
What also came through in the movie was the stark commentary of how illegal immigrants are human after all, and need to be treated with basic dignity, rather than getting embroiled in complicated processes, and metted punishment for nothing they did wrong except that of trying to etch out a new and better life in a new land of opportunities. Sometimes too, these folks get tricked and exploited into coming because of the false promises of jobs, only to find that their deposits paid to unscrupulous middlemen disappear, and they're left to fend for themselves. Homeland Security also took a beating here with compassion-less officers enforcing black and white rules, with no negotiation attitudes painted on their gruff faces.
Something like this would probably not work here, given one's duty to report illegals residing in your apartment, otherwise one would even lose that roof over your head. But if you would just step back and think for a moment, and this movie forces you to when the end credits roll, that it almost always doesn't hurt should you show a little compassion to a fellow man.