REVIEW: Sin Nombre


96 Minutes // Mexico // Focus Feature
dir. Cary Fukunaga
Saturday, August 8th, 2009
starring: Paulina Gaitan & Edgar Flores

After receiving much acclaim at this years Sundance Film Festival, Sin Nombre was almost immediately purchased by Focus Features for distribution – no easy feat as it took Sunshine Cleaning over a year and a half to get a theatrical release after premiering at 2008’s Sundance.

With a cast of unknowns – most of which without a single performance to their resume before this feature – director/writer Cary Fukunaga does well in molding their fresh minds into his gritty mold. To get the film underway must have been a tiresome prospect – having the stress of creating your first feature must be a grueling process, but add to that the struggles that must ensue with amateurs that may not know the way to shoot a feature and you’ve got yourself quite a hurdle.

Fortunately he executes the film precision. Although the screenplay wasn’t the most captivating and the whole play on fate and morality did come off too weak to bear much emotional/intellectual value, Fukunaga did keep the story from tearing at the seams.

In the film, there are two major stories that inevitably intersect midway through. There’s Casper (Edgar Flores) and his life as a gangster. In attempting to juggle both a romantic affair with his love and maintaining his value in the street gang he’s affiliated with, there is conflict. His gang, Salvatrucha protests that romantic entanglements stray one’s focus from the gang and as a gang fighting other gangs trying to take their place, one’s focus must not be diverted – unanimity is crucial. Of course, he tries to hide his girlfriend by calling her “a friend” when his bane leader Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta) inquires. This doesn’t work and Lil Mago demands he take Casper’s girl home – of course, as a man without a gentle bone in his body, his mind isn’t set on a pleasant walk through the dirty and vacant side-streets. No resistance is put up by Casper which quietly expresses the power the leader has over the gang, which is much nicer than a blatant “I am your leader” speech that so many gang films have these days.

In the other story Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), a tense and frightened young woman looks for a way out of the chaotic city she lives in. With her father and distant uncle who knows his way around the borders, Sayra sets off on a heated journey; both emotionally and physically. The trio encounter various issues, but never get at each other, keeping the story without turgidity.

Alternating between the two stories seems useless until they intersect and the film’s dynamic changes forever. It goes from being a contemporary tale about both the inhumanity of gangs and the want of breaking free of an empty existence to a thriller about valuing life and love.

Shot through an exotic scope, Sin Nombre is one of those rare gems that will leave you feeling dirty, but until the conclusion you’ll feel as if you were basking in a rainbow. It isn’t a grueling watch, but it certainly isn’t the most delightful either. Through the pretty exterior there is a macabre soul that injects tragedy into plenty scenes – Edgar Flores’ performance reflects this most substantially.

Well paced at 96 minutes and containing only a handful of scenes that don’t hold any purpose, while it isn’t a masterful film by any means it is a promising start to Cary Fukunaga’s career.

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