Sin Nombre (2009)

Cary Fukunaga’s first feature is an emotional, but brutal take on the immigrant’s journey atop freight trains across gang-infested Mexico.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Dir. Cary Fukunaga
2009 | Mexico | Crime/Drama | 96 mins | 2.35:1 | Spanish
NC16 (passed clean) for violence, language and some sexual content 

Cast: Paulina Gaitan, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Leonardo Alonso
Plot: A Honduran young girl and a Mexican gangster are united in a journey across the American border.
Awards: Won Best Director and Best Cinematography (Sundance).
Source: Focus Features

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Heavy
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Review #1,089

(Reviewed at Perspectives Film Festival 2014 – first published 15 Oct 2014)

Spoilers: No

Throughout our lives, we have encountered news and stories of illegal immigration in many parts of the world.  Most of the time, we don’t care because they are so far away. 

Director Cary Fukunaga forces the distance that is ignorance closer to us, to the point that it affords us some emotional connection to the issue, by way of an exciting plot involving crossing the US-Mexico border.

Sin Nombre, his feature debut, is a scintillating effort by a rising filmmaker who is known for his HBO series ‘True Detective’.  His second feature Jane Eyre (2011), starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, is also a dark, delightful screen adaptation of the famous text.

Fukunaga’s strength is his commitment to his characters without losing sight of the larger themes, in this case, a humanitarian one.  In Sin Nombre, he brings two separate plotlines into a collision course atop a freight train: one, a Honduran teenage girl is en-route in Mexico to join her family in the States; and two, a Mexican gangster is hunted by his gun-toting peers who are in pursuit of vengeance.

“She smoked this puro, then told me with her freaky voice that I’d make it to the U.S. but not in God’s hand, perhaps in the Devil’s.”

The result, while not particularly dramatically gripping, is one that uniquely, if fatalistically and symbolically, constructs the one-way, forward-moving nature of the immigrant’s journey. 

Set in the midst of a rising tension between rival gangs in crime-infested Mexico, the film recalls the likes of City of God (2002), the sensational Brazilian film that gave slums and gangsters a vivid if stylized portrayal.

Sin Nombre is the more emotional piece, but no less brutal in charting the dangerous physical and human terrain where violence finds a comfortable home.  The performances are decent, with Fukunaga drawing out raw realism from on-location shooting and the hopeful spirit of a collective displaced.

The sequences shot on top of a moving freight train are extraordinary, and in many ways, we take the same journey with them.  The train doesn’t turn back; it cannot turn back.  It chugs along, always heading towards a (maybe) better place.  Some derail, many die.  But another train comes along, with a similar set of hopes and fears.

Winning Best Director and Best Cinematography at Sundance, Sin Nombre is an outstanding look at a touchy issue, but there is no politics in the human heart when it travels by rail.

Grade: A-




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