A Visceral Melodrama About Latino Gangs and Illegal Immigrants
Writer-director Cary Fukunaga makes an impressive feature film debut with the Spanish-language Sin Nombre (2009), which won awards at Sundance for direction and cinematography. The movie is both beautiful and gritty, and it is not in any way small, involving a large cast and crew, as well as a number of striking locations. The film indelibly etches in viewers' minds the image of desperate people riding through Mexico atop northbound freight trains.
As background to Sin Nombre, it helps to know that the Mara Salvatrucha is a powerful gang that has become internationally established. Headquartered in LA, the Mara has tentacles reaching from Toronto to Virginia to Honduras, and the movie depicts a clan in Mexico. The clan leader, Lil' Mago, is one of the scariest guys you'll ever see. A key character in the story is Casper, a gang member who's about 18. Also, there's Smiley, a 12-year-old who is brutally beaten as part of his initiation into the Mara. Then he and Casper murder a captured rival, whose corpse is fed to dogs.
The third key character is the teenage girl Sayra, who sets out from her home in Honduras to travel through Mexico and enter the US illegally. About 40 minutes into the film, the story kicks into gear when Sayra and Casper meet and go on the run together, heading for the Texas border. The journey is harrowing, but ends with an act of redemption.
The plot mechanics are sometimes too obvious here, and the development of the character Casper lacks subtlety. But Fukunaga has a flair for the visual, and he is gifted at choosing the right details.
Audio Commentary and Deleted Scenes
The Sin Nombre DVD provides a worthwhile feature-length English-language audio commentary by writer-director Cary Fukunaga and producer Amy Kaufman. They state that the tattoos were all fake and were removed daily so as not to risk the actors being attacked by real-life gang members. Fukunaga says he spent four and a half years on the film, and in preparing for it he rode the trains with the immigrants, but he was pulled off by authorities before he got to the mountain tunnel shown in the movie. He and Kaufman talk about using hundreds of extras, many of whom were real-life immigrants in transit. They mention that the actress who played Sayra and the boy who portrayed Smiley had lots of telenovela experience, but the young man who played Casper was hired off the street. Five days of shooting were done on actual boxcars, and there were serious safety concerns, particularly because the boxcars were moving in several scenes.
The only other DVD bonus material is a group of 13 deleted scenes with a total runtime of 10 minutes. Watching these doesn't particularly enhance the viewer's enjoyment or understanding of the feature film.
Below I have listed all the details for the DVD containing Sin Nombre.
Release Date: September 1, 2009
Feature Film Runtime: 1 hour 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Language and Some Sexual Content
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1, Color
Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Audio Commentary by Writer/Director and Producer
Deleted Scenes (13 scenes, total runtime = 10 min.)