This new dramatic thriller from neophyte Cary Joji Fukunaga richly immerses one into the tumult of the immigrant experience.
Sin Nombre (which translates as "Without a Name", in Spanish with English subtitles) underlines the director's close ties to what unfolds as a variation on the border film. Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna (who starred together in Y Tu Mama Tambien) served as executive producers.
Starring Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, and Kristyan Ferrer, the picture runs a fairly brisk course until its latter, arguably more predictable reels, as it proves rather accomplished in its look and director, for which it's been honored.
Fukunaga (also scripting) intersects and ultimately unites two distinct narrative paths that have wrenching consequences with the connection to Mara Salvatrucha brotherhood based in Tapachula, Mexico.
Flores's Casper, known as Willy, undergoes much pain before and after this Mara member helps to vigorously initiate Ferrer's 12-year-old Smiley. The boot camp is a vicious coming-of-age for the reluctant Smiley who quickly learns to adapt to the cold-blooded lifestyle.
Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) is the unrelenting malicious Mara ducat who helps crumble Willy's world as he's unable to keep his intimate life with Martha (Diana Garcia) clandestine. But, Casper finds a new brave ally in the form of the unsettled, comely Sayra (Gaitan). Sayra and her relatives have managed to cross over into Mexico from Honduras, as she plans to emigrate to the U.S. where her father has a family now situated in New Jersey (his stateside phone number was heard early on and key to realizing her goal outside her native land).
Sin Nombre is filled with some memorable imagery, especially one at a bustling freight train station as immigrants tenuously ride atop the cars with Lil' Mago and his ruthless bandits in tow and ones of the Mexican countryside. The harrowing and sentimental coalesce with notions of the neuroses plaguing Casper as a moral quandry is set up for him as with stark side effects from Lil' Mago and Smiley, now driven by the ways of the Mara.
The character-driven nature of the story is more deeply felt later on, as the hope of new life draws Sayra and Casper together. And, it catches onto the better elements of affecting pictures like Under the Same Moon and City of God, a sharply hewn cinema verite that allows for more contemplation into the meaning of crossing over.