Honduran teenager Sayra reunites with her father, an opportunity for her to potentially realize her dream of a life in the U.S. Moving to Mexico is the first step in a fateful journey of unexpected events. Written by
The homemade gun, made of pieces of steel pipe, is called a 'chimba'. See more »
The teardrop tattoo on el Casper's right eye is missing in two consecutive scenes on the top of the train but is visible on his face throughout the movie both before and after these scenes on the train. Interestingly, the tattoo is an important identifying mark/symbol in the movie and is specifically highlighted by gang members when asking locals if they have seen Casper as they try to find him and hunt him down. See more »
Back home, my friend Clarissa made me see this crazy neighbor, Doña Eleanor, you know, like witchcraft? She smoked this puro, then told me with her freaky voice that I'd make it to the U.S. but not in God's hand, perhaps in the Devil's.
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I previously said the two best movies of 2009 thus far are "Sunshine Cleaning" and "State of Play". But this newest entry, "Sin Nombre", makes me move this one into the top spot, easily. It is a meaningful contemporary statement made by a writer/director newcomer with guts.
The story(ies) begin in Honduras, a bit later on in Mexico. We first meet Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who is to accompany her father from Honduras to America their sights are set on New Jersey. Sayra has not seen her father in a long time, so theirs is an uneasy alliance. He shows her a crudely drawn map, and he traces their route; theirs is a long journey.
We next meet Casper (aka Willy played by Edgar Flores), a member of a Mexican gang from whom he is hiding his girlfriend; he lies to the gang leader about his whereabouts, but this fearsome leader has his suspicions. We also meet Smiley (Kristian Ferrer) who has just been initiated into the gang. Both Casper and Smiley are put to an additional test to prove their loyalty. They are now thoroughly enmeshed in a world of violence and considerable darkness. This is an edgy world, one in which the overwhelming sensation is constant threat.
Eventually the two separate threads become entwined both Casper and Smiley have headed north on a train headed north through Mexico, and Sayra and her father have climbed aboard the same train. How all these characters meet and how their itineraries merge is the heart of the narrative.
The shots of train yards and of the illegal train passengers enroute sitting on top of cars mostly - are very engaging and have a authentic look. The cinematography in the movie is terrific. There are great shots of border crossings and always the trains. According to director Cary Fukunaga the train scenes were difficult to shoot (http://www.popmatters.com):
"We had to maximize those few days we could actually shoot on a train to make it all real," Fukunaga says. "We ended up building a prop train on flatbed trailers, pulling them on country roads around Mexico. You use extras on the set to block the horizon line. If they're in the way, you can't see how far the train goes off into the distance. Definitely something they don't teach you in film school."
All really good movies have a surprise, and there is one here that made me lean forward as if I could see a little better; it was a case of - Did I just see what I think I saw? And that reminds me that this was the first picture in a long time where people walked out fairly early on. That always makes me wonder what a movie about gangsters would have attracted them in the first place.
I am reminded of "City of God" and "Amores Perros", two films that also portray the darker sides of Central America. For anyone needing a fix of smart storytelling with social commentary woven throughout should seek this one out. This is my favorite kind of movie, one where the director leads you through a shadowy other-world full of realistic characters and situations.
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