Countries: United States, Mexico
Language: Spanish w/ English subtitles
Starring: Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer
Eye candy: Diana Garcia
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Run time: 96 minutes
DVD distributor: Alliance Films
It took me a long time to understand the meaning of the number that young Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and her uncle keep repeating as they make an attempt to flee Honduras in order to make it to the United States. At first, I assumed that the title of this movie referred to a SIN number (which would make good sense), and that this was the number they kept repeating. (It turns out it’s a telephone number, and not that important to the movie.) I still don’t know exactly what the title means. I assume now that it refers to sin, in some capacity. Either way, I don’t care. This movie is fabulous.
Sin Nombre tells the story of Sayra and Willy (Edgar Flores), who meet up on a train in Mexico under dire circumstances. As the movie begins, Sayra has just met her estranged father, and with him and her uncle she is preparing to make the dash for the United States and freedom. They are heading out to meet her father’s new family in New Jersey, and Sayra is seizing on the opportunity to start a new life and embark upon a new adventure. Willy, meanwhile, is embroiled with a particularly brutal Mexican gang called the Mara Salvatrucha.
It’s clear right away that Willy (or, as the gang calls him, Casper) is not the gangster type. He kills, but his heart isn’t in it. First-time film maker Cary Joji Fukanaga does a wonderful job of convincing us that although Casper really is a killer, he participates in the gang lifestyle more out of fear and necessity than out of any real sadistic streak. Casper keeps his girlfriend hidden from the gang, partly because he knows the gang would treat her badly, but also because he is ashamed of who and what he is. At the same time, he is fully aware of the consequences of disobediance, and when the gang leader Lil’ Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) tells Casper to kill someone, he knows he darn well better do so.
Casper has just recruited a young girl named Smiley into the gang. Smiley’s initiation is brutal, and clearly turns Casper’s stomach, but of course he must fit in with the group or he will be killed. But when his girlfriend meets a horrible fate at the hands of his “homies”, he turns on Lil’ Mago. He is now a marked man, and the rest of the gang will hunt him to the ends of the earth to murder him. His only hope is to escape across the border, and in doing so he becomes acquainted with Sayra. What was two movies has now become one movie, as the pair try to stay ahead of the vengeful killers while dodging border patrols and the authorities.
There are moments in the latter half of Sin Nombre that are terrifically pulse-pounding. Actually, most of the movie made my heart race, as just about every frame of the film is totally gripping. Gaitan and Flores are revelations, infusing both their characters with the right amount of fear, worry and reckless abandon. Flores especially is terrific, as the hunted and broken Willy (Casper). Explaining the exact plot of Sin Nombre would not do the movie justice. It’s a film simliar to many I have seen before. But this one is far, far better than the majority of similar films. This may be Fukanaga’s debut as a director, but I have a feeling that much, much bigger things are in store for him.