Winner of two awards at this year's Sundance Film Festival (Best Director and Best Cinematography), Sin Nombre marks an impressive feature-film debut for Cary Joji Fukunaga, albeit more as a director than a writer.
Certainly, Fukunaga's screenplay is strong enough, showing how two lost souls intersect as they journey northward atop a train toward what they hope will be better lives. Casper (Edgar Flores) is a Mexican teenager who's a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang. More conscientious than others of his ilk, he turns his back on the gang and soon becomes their hunted prey, with (shades of The Warriors) other gang factions offering to help in his capture and execution. Meanwhile, Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is a Honduran teen who's immigrating with her father (Gerardo Taracena) and uncle (Guillermo Villegas) as they plot to eventually cross the Mexico-U.S. border and make it up to the dad's new home in New Jersey. Circumstances lead to the two youths meeting and developing a mutually respectful relationship that, when all is said and done, complicates their respective flights from their past lives.
The gangland material is often intriguing to watch, even if Fukunaga can't quite escape from the shadows of similar films that include such material (City of God and Once Were Warriors spring to mind). And while Sayra is a completely believable character, it's difficult to imagine someone with Casper's sensitivity ever getting mixed up with the Mara Salvatrucha in the first place. But as a director, Fukunaga displays a keen eye, both for expansive compositions (he's aided immeasurably by cameraman Adriano Goldman) and for the small details that define the existence of these struggling people -- I especially love the juxtaposition between a scene in which kind children throw fruit up to the immigrants on the train and a later sequence in which cruel kids hurl rocks at these rail riders.
Sin Nombre is Spanish for "without name," but based on this one picture, Cary Joji Fukunaga might be a name worth remembering as he moves forward with his promising career.