out of Five
Running time: 96
Beautifully shot, impressively directed and superbly written, Sin Nombre is a powerfully emotional drama with terrific performances from its three young leads.
What's it all about?
The feature debut by writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Sin Nombre (Without a Name) begins in southern Mexico, where teenage gangbanger Willy (Edgar Flores) helps his 12-year-old friend Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) join the Mara Salvatrucha brotherhood, despite knowing that the initiation ceremony involves being brutally beaten for 13 seconds and the murder of a rival gang member. However, when vicious gang leader Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) discovers Willy has a secret girlfriend (Diana Garcia) in a rival territory, he orders Smiley to kill him.
In desperation, Willy hops a train for the US, where he meets Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who's travelling to America with her estranged father and uncle (Gerardo Taracena and Guillermo Villegas), along with an entire trainload of illegal immigrants camped on the roof of the train. The pair tentatively form a relationship, but Willy is painfully aware that Smiley could catch up at any moment.
Sin Nombre is strikingly shot throughout, with much of the film taking place on the roof of the slow-moving train (a real train with, according to official sources, real immigrants). The performances are excellent, particularly Flores and Gaitan, who accomplish a huge amount with very little dialogue; their expressions and glances tell us everything we need to know about their situation and the nature of their new-found relationship.
There's also strong support from Ferrer and Garcia, who shines in her all-too-brief appearance as Martha Marlene.
Fukunaga orchestrates some terrific scenes and creates a genuinely tense atmosphere where the possibilty of discovery or betrayal is never far away. Similarly, the film's sudden explosions of brutal violence are used to powerful and shocking effect, most notably in Smiley's horrifying initiation scene.
Part road movie, part thriller, part love story and part social commentary, Sin Nombre is a riveting watch and an expertly directed drama that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema. Highly recommended.