Sin Nombre Movie Review
Nombre opens with Caspar tutoring 12-year-old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) on the finer points of gang life, principally how to cover your hombres. To Smiley, watching Caspar grab a quickie with Martha is the best advertisement for being a gangster imaginable. The would-be hoodlum certainly doesn't find much honor in the execution he is forced to carry out nor the beating he receives during his initiation. But, unlike Smiley, Caspar has become numb to these images. Even the sight of a rival gang-member's entrails being fed to the Mara Salvatchura's German shepherds is commonplace.
What Caspar is not prepared for is Salvatchura leader Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) raping and accidentally murdering Martha. Mago's apology comes in the form of a beating. Later, as Mago attempts to rape a Honduran teen named Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), Caspar drives a machete into the fully-inked gang leader. To atone for Caspar's betrayal, Smiley then is commanded to track down and execute his one-time teacher.
Fukunaga's inspiration comes from wanting to shed light on the Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans that traverse even more hard earth than Mexicans to cross the border to America. Sayra, who we are introduced to early in the film, is making this very journey with her brother and father, with whom she has an uneasy relationship. But with the exception of some early scenes where Sayra and her brother are forced to learn the phone number for their father's American family, not much is made of the process of going the extra distance.
In fact, the story of Sayra and Caspar riding the rails -- on top of the trains -- to get to the new world isn't an especially captivating one, despite a solid script written by the director and Adriano Goldman's gorgeous cinematography. There are moments of intensity, such as a shoot-out in a small town between the Mara and a rival gang and a short scene where Smiley discusses executing Caspar with some younger friends. Bur the film lacks tension and specificity once they leave Tapachula. Caspar is a doomed character, and Fukunaga makes quite a big deal of making sure the audience knows that, even as he indulges in a subtle romance with Sayra.
Every year will bring its own immigration drama and, ignoring the utterly abhorrent Crossing Over, Sin Nombre seems fit to fill that specific marketplace spot for 2009. Though it doesn't have the procedural suspense of Maria Full of Grace nor the atmospheric dread of last year's Sangre de Mi Sangre, Sin Nombre isn't so much a bad movie as it is an unremarkable one. The final shot of Caspar, which ties up the Christ complex with a big bright bow, completes our expectations, as does Sayra's phone call, which brings this tale of moral absolutes to a close.