Posted on Friday, April 3rd, 2009 by David Chen
If Sin Nombre was Cary Joji Fukunaga’s 7th or 8th film, it would be evidence of a maturing and brilliant director with a firm grasp on his craft, hitting his stride during the course of an already-flourishing career. That Sin Nombre is Fukunaga’s directorial and writing debut is nothing short of astonishing. Every element of this film shines: the gritty performances, the gorgeous cinematography, and the minimal, yet effective true-to-life script. A stunning accomplishment to behold, Sin Nombre is one of my favorite films of 2009 so far.
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The movie tells two parallel stories that eventually become intertwined. In the first, we find a young man named Casper (Edgar Flores), who is chafing against the responsibilities of gang life. Although he identifies as part of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, he isn’t as committed as some of his colleagues and constantly tries to keep his gang life separate from his personal life. At the beginning of the film, Casper recruits a young boy, Smiley (Kristian Ferrer), to the gang, and through the latter, we witness some of the horrors of gang initiation and socialization. As Smiley is given more responsibilities, he and Casper are eventually given tasks that will brutally test each of them in different ways. The second story involves Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a teenager from Honduras whose absentee father suddenly re-enters her life when he’s deported from the United States. Determined to return to his family in New Jersey at all costs, Sayra’s father brings Sayra and her brother along with him on the punishing and treacherous three-week journey through Mexico to the U.S. southern border.
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