Sin Nombre
“This is the worst picnic ever!”

Theatrical Release Date: 04/03/2009
Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Cast: Edgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Kristian Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta, Diana Garcia, Luis Fernando Peña

Living in southern California, one has heard many heartbreaking stories about people and families coming to America (legally or not) in order to provide a better future for themselves and their loved ones.

What’s refreshing about “Sin Nombre” is that it isn’t a film questioning the stance one should take about illegal immigration, that’s only the backdrop. The focus of the film is on two young adults as their journey north to America creates a bond between them and spotlights how important it is to follow your heart and conscience.

Edgar Flores plays Willy, or as he’s known by his gang, El Casper. His gang, Mara Salvatrucha (a real life entity), violently protects its turf and doesn’t hesitate to deliver beatings to their own members for failure to abide by the group’s rules. Just to get into the gang, one must be jumped in (beaten by other members) and kill a rival gang member. Getting out, like Willy eventually desires, is something different altogether, as membership is for life.

At the same time that Casper is beginning to see through the violent veil and false brotherhood of his gang, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is beginning her journey from Honduras to New Jersey. Her father, having been deported from the Garden State, is planning to return to America, now with his daughter and brother in tow. On the train, Casper and Sayra gravitate towards each other after a violent incident and become determined to help each other reach the United States and hopefully, a brighter future.

Bother Flores and Gaitan deliver touching, poignant performances. The complicated emotions within them are displayed in their expressions as well as their words. There’s an intimacy created by their chemistry that both lifts and breaks your heart all at the same time.

The gang members performances, especially that of the newest member – a young boy designated Smiley (Kristian Ferrer), are all believable and help to immerse the film in a tangible sense of reality. And that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect of “Sin Nombre”. All of the events and characters seem like they were ripped from the real world and splashed onto the silver screen. In a sea of romantic comedies, horror films and animated kids fare, it was nice to watch a film made for adults again.

I really only have one complaint about the film: it would be better off as a short film. Because it’s essentially a road film (or tracks film since it’s mostly about a train), many of the shots involve a slow moving locomotive and the hopeful immigrants riding atop it. It does an effective job of creating the mood and atmosphere involved in such an undertaking but with the film’s running time hovering around 85 minutes, it also makes me believe that director Cary Joji Fukunaga was stretching for time.

When boiling down the plot points, a 30 to 40 minute film would have been able to cover it all adequately. I admit that some of the long, drawn out train sequences are essentially to the audience’s empathy but I also can’t ignore the disparity in the film’s energy level between those scenes and the others that is the result.

Despite my misgivings about stretching the film to accommodate a feature length presentation, “Sin Nombre” remains a powerful story with touching performances and is the best film of the year so far. A 4 out of 5, anyone interested in the subject material or just wanting to look at the bleak and difficult journey immigrants endure in their attempt to reach America will get their money’s worth here.