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Destiny's Train Ride: First-time director nails a dark and disturbing drama 

...without a paddle.Sin Nombre (which translates to "Without a Name") is one of those films that will stay with you for days. This brilliantly directed,

click to enlarge ...without a paddle.
  • ...without a paddle.
...without a paddle.Sin Nombre (which translates to "Without a Name") is one of those films that will stay with you for days. This brilliantly directed, acted and photographed visual masterpiece is a chase-thriller/road-movie/coming of age/love story. The film examines the power and influence of Mexican gangs in small towns that offer little beyond the lure of crossing the border. It's a simple tale bound together with complex emotional themes, and produced by two actors who have established themselves in American movies, Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También).

The film features two main storylines that intersect during a train ride moving immigrants north. El Casper (Edgar Flores) is disillusioned with gang life and seeks an escape; Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is going to cross the Mexican border from Honduras with her estranged father. Casper is running from his past with gang members in chase. Sayra is smitten with him, a combination of infatuation, necessity and the white knight syndrome-even if the knight wields a machete. The saga of twelve-year old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) is the movie's pivotal and most powerful secondary storyline, chronicling his gang indoctrination and efforts to legitimize himself. Immigration, while a powerful undercurrent, plays a back seat to the depiction of desperate acts to escape intolerable circumstances.

What shines through most brightly in this movie, aside from the stunning photography, locations and storytelling, is the acting. You don't see such heartfelt and believable performances like this very often. Nearly everyone in this movie is phenomenal, bringing to life surreal, yet powerful, moments between gang members. Flores' facial expressions speak volumes of guilt, pride, sorrow, remorse and defiance. The leader of the gang Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), his face a tattooed mask, shows amazing sensitivity in his brutality. The father and daughter relationship is beautifully played as a mixture of confusion and respect. The transparent pain that lies just underneath the skin of all the characters is almost excruciating. Self-importance and humility walk a thin line, strongly permeating each characters' motives.

Cary Fukunaga seamlessly directs his first feature, weaving a story that's cloaked in darkness, yet sparkles with a glimmer of hope. Fukunaga also spent time riding the rail himself and handpicked all the locations from what he experienced. Shooting in 35 mm, Fukunaga cast real people, gang members and virtually unknown actors, giving this flick a gritty documentary style. Playing like a slowed-down version of City of God, the dreamlike story is immediately etched into our brains by the pace and performances.

I have not seen a movie this intriguing, beautiful and disturbing since Louis Malle's Lacombe Lucien. Maintaining a sense of strange eloquence in a savage land, Sin Nombre is an unblinking snapshot of bittersweet destiny as the characters linger on the verge of losing everything while constantly holding on to what they've got. Struggling through anguished emotions and living second to second, they inch forward, clinging to futile hope. They cherish every second. That's how I felt about this movie. I treasured every second.

Sin Nombre ★★★★✩
Starring Paulina Gaitan, Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta Mejía, Diana Garcia, Luis Fernando Peña. Writer/director: Cary Joji Fukunaga. Rated R.


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