Sin Nombre (which Wikipedia tells us is Spanish for “without name”) tells the story of Willy (aka Casper, played by Edgar Flores), a teenage member of a ruthless Mexican gang. Quickly after he helps initiate a pre-teen named Smiley into his inner-circle, a personal secret Casper has been hiding is exposed, and he is abruptly betrayed by gang leader Lil’ Mago.
Shortly after, Mago, Casper and Smiley attempt to rob a train containing migrants attempting to immigrate to America. Still stinging from the betrayal, Casper takes revenge on Mago and sends Smiley away while he stays behind on the train in hopes of escaping. While hiding out from his revenge-seeking gang members, he befriends a girl named Sayra (Paulina Gaitán) who is attempting to escape to America with her family.
Sin Nombre is an engrossing story and an impressive debut work from first time director Cary Fukunaga, who also wrote the screenplay. Fukunaga keeps a steady pace throughout the film, and packs it with various subtle, yet effective surprises, including an ending I was expecting to go in another direction.
The film is also benefited by strong performances. Flores and Gaitán have great chemistry together, and their relationship, which I initially felt was going to be forced, turns out to be very effective as they bond while attempting to survive their respective dangerous journeys.
The film is also given a great sense of authenticity, as many of its extra characters were either real life gang members or migrants (information also obtained from Wikipedia).
The biggest complaint I have about this movie is not a gripe one usually makes, but I think this movie could have actually benefited from being about a half-hour longer. It’s surprisingly short with a running time of just over 90 minutes, and while it’s usually better for a movie to end before it gets bogged down, I think there was more of a story to tell here.
One way the movie could have been longer without getting long winded would have been to provide its characters a backstory. This movie falls short of some of my favorite gang films, like the 2002 Brazillian masterpiece City Of God, or the great 1991 South Central L. A. story Boyz N The Hood, and a big reason for that I think is because both of those movies showed you how truly horrific gang life was by showing characters who spent their entire lives inside these corrosive environments.
While Sin Nombre does have disturbing elements, such as newborn babies being raised around gang warfare and kids being initiated (meaning they have to kill rival gang members) before even reaching their teens, you’re only seeing small snippets of these people’s lives. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for me, it didn’t create the lasting impact I got from the two movies mentioned above.
Lastly, there are moments in which the sub titles (the dialogue in Spanish) are a bit hard to read. I always knew what was going on, but there were moments where I kind of had to squint to read what was being said.
I don’t want to sound like I’m being too hard on this movie because it is quite good and absolutely worth seeing. I just think their may have been an even greater story to tell, and as a result, it falls short of greatness.
Regardless, Cary Fukunaga has made an impressive debut film and he’s a director that certainly bears watching in the future.
- Interesting story
- Well acted
- Well directed
- Good movie
- A few hard to read subtitles
- While good, it could have been great
Final Score: 7.75/10 (Good)