Reviews - Sin Nombre
Reviewed By John Stakes
32 years old American born first time writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s gripping film centres on two groups of people; Honduran born Sayra, and her illegal immigrant father, brother and uncle making their perilous way atop a Mexican train to the US border in the hope of eventually reaching New Jersey, and three members of the Mexican street gang Mara Silvatrucha, headed by gang leader Lil Mago, disaffected Casper (aka Willy) and the junior, recently initiated member El Smiley, who are on a mission to rob the Hondurans.
The grossly tattooed and utterly frightening Mago, as close to the personification of evil as it is possible to conjure up, had already caused the death of Casper’s downtown girlfriend Martha having first tried to rape her. When he attempts to force himself on Sayra Casper kills him, throwing his body from the train, instantly becoming a target for revenge. Sayra’s curiosity over her saviour leads to an unlikely bond forming between them forged from their mutual dislocation and desire for a better life.
With the gang now in hot pursuit the story adopts the well worn theme of will they won’t they make it to and across the border and find sanctuary in the USA. What elevated the film into something only a little short of a masterpiece was Fukunaga’s deep understanding of Mexico street life and gang culture which underpinned the film’s authentic feel and gritty realism. To reach this level he spent two years visiting Mexican slums and jails and riding the trains. He also drew his actors from talented street stock in preference to the middle class youngsters who initially auditioned. The result: a film bursting with documentary realism yet packed with a huge emotional clout so it was impossible not to become involved.
With admirable support from his award winning cinematographer Adriano Goldman, Fukunaga contrasted the squalor of slum life with the natural beauty of the landscape which served both to remind Casper of the hopelessness of his plight which he readily recognised and the life he dreamed of. Some of the images were inspired. There was an assured, measured grip to the whole film which was never relaxed and demonstrated Fukunaga’s total control of his subject.
The acting throughout was inch perfect. It would be unfair to single anyone out but El Smiley’s transition from boy innocent to assassin in what seemed days was astonishing. His guided tour through the gang’s HQ early on was a numbing experience which graphically established the enormity of the plight of anyone who broke the code of the poor man’s Mafia. So there were plenty of slum-dogs; no millionaires, and (rightly) no feel-good factor to sweeten the unpalatable pill.
The film has received a stack of nominations around the world and carried off most of the awards at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It ranks high in the club’s list of the most popular films of the past year. The film with no name seems destined to make this director a world wide name for himself. Fukunaga’s current project would appear to be far removed from the reality of slum life, a musical no less but, being based around Grimms’ fairy tales, who would bet against this being another cinematic experience.
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