Sin Nombre Review


“Sin Nombre,” the debut feature from director Cary Fukunaga, comes along at a time when its subject (immigration) has become a heated political issue. Shockingly, the film is pretty apolitical. It has some things to say, but these points are more related to gangs and violence in general. What the film has to say about immigration is that it’s a horrible ordeal, worse than any of us could ever imagine. It’s a powerful look at a number of individuals trying to make it to America from various Latin-American countries. I connected to the material on both an intellectual and emotional level, but it can’t give it an unqualified recommendation because it lacks a real dynamic character. The acting, therefore, is nothing to write home about, and the film suffers from these two problems. Still, on the strength of its strong story and uncompromising direction, I’d say it’s definitely worth your time.

Willy (Edgar Flores), or “El Casper” is a young gang member in southern Mexico. He’s guiding a protégé, Smiley (Kristian Ferrer), through initiation. When he makes it through, he will, like Willy, have brothers to look out for him for life. Willy, however, leads a bit of a double life. He has a girlfriend, Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia), who doesn’t know much about his gang and who the gang doesn’t even know exists.

Meanwhile, a young girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), is about to embark on a journey from her home in Honduras to a new home, with all the possibilities in the world, in New Jersey. She is traveling with her uncle and father. Eventually, Willy gets in a spot of trouble and goes on the run from the gang. He meets Sayra, whose life he saves, and the two are immediately drawn toward each other. Their relationship develops while Willy eludes his former brothers and their entire party deals with the incredible hardships of a journey to America.

I was seriously impressed by Fukunaga’s unflinching direction. This is a brutal story about a brutal subject. It’s filled with multiple personal tragedies and unbelievable suffering. And he doesn’t shy away from it. Instead, he gives it to you raw.

The problem I did have with the film related to the characters. Willy is a low-key protagonist—I’d say a little too low-key. It’s easy to understand his motivations, but he doesn’t really jump off the screen. Even more problematic is the character of Sayra. I’m not sure if it’s the fault of the screenplay or the actress, but her actions seemed contrived. Her actions didn’t make sense, especially considering how (seemingly) authentic the film seemed.

The message that gangs are bad and immigration is difficult isn’t eye-opening or surprising, but what is surprising is how strongly it resonates. The way the story brings these issues down to such a personal level makes you sit up and pay attention to what the film has to say. And, as I stated earlier, the film keeps politics out of it. No matter how you feel about illegal immigration, you should be able to appreciate this well-told story and it should make you think long and hard about the people who cross that border.

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