Movie Review - 'Sin Nombre': Danger And Friendship, En Route To North America Sin Nombre has a first-time director, actors you've never heard of, Spanish dialogue and a story about illegal immigration. Somehow all that adds up to a surprisingly striking movie.
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Danger And Friendship, En Route To North America

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Danger And Friendship, En Route To North America

Review

Movies

Danger And Friendship, En Route To North America

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

"Sin Nombre" is the name of a new movie, and it literally means nameless in Spanish. A fitting title for a film with a first time director and actors you've never heard of. But Bob Mondello says audiences will want to remember the names of everyone associated with it.

BOB MONDELLO: Start with Cary Fukunaga, a young director from California, whose connection to Central America is tenuous, though you'd never guess as his camera plunges into a world of Mexican street gangs. Fukunaga captures the hulking thugs in Chiapas in such detail that you'd almost think you were watching a documentary about them.

Their faces are all but obscured by enormous tattoos, their lives filled with violence that often turns deadly — never more so than when a 12-year-old named Smiley is inducted into the gang, first by being beaten, then by being shot at and finally by being made executioner of a rival gang member.

(Soundbite of gunshot)

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: Smiley is being shepherded through these rituals by Casper, who's just a few years older. If Casper looks slightly more soulful than most of the thugs he hangs with, it's only because he has a teardrop tattoo at the corner of one eye. But he does seem to have qualms about the collective viciousness that has him on a fast track to the cemetery - a track that gets faster when he angrily betrays the gang during a robbery of some U.S.-bound emigres who are riding atop a freight train. Knowing the gang will come after him, he later hops off the train, only to discover as it pulls away that one of the emigres has hopped off behind him.

(Soundbite of movie, "Sin Nombre")

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

MONDELLO: She's a pretty teenager he rescued from rape. And now, supremely foolishly, she's decided she feels safe only around him. Casper watches the train pull away, realizing the girl is helpless, and he's the reason.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

MONDELLO: If this plot development sounds a little too Hollywood, well, it kind of is. But everything leading up to and following it feels so authentic that you can forgive the filmmaker for a minor lapse.

Although Fukunaga worked in both writing and directing labs at the Sundance Institute, "Sin Nombre" almost never feels workshopped or overly planned. Its acting — largely by first-time performers — is natural and unforced. Its images, whether urgent and urban or sunset-strewn and caught from atop a moving train, are haunting.

And if "Sin Nombre" doesn't have anything terribly new to say about the illegal immigrants who are its subject, or the desperate trek they're making from one dicey uncertain future to another, its depiction of that trek is pretty vibrant moviemaking.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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