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  Sin Nombre Going NorthBuy this film here.
Year: 2009
Director: Cary Fukunaga
Stars: Édgar Flores, Paulina Gaitan, Kristian Ferrer, Tenoch Huerta, Diana Garcia, Gerardo Taracena, Marco Antonio Aguirre, Felipe Castro, Rosalba Quintana Cruz, Marcela Feregrino, Gabriela Garibaldi, Ignacio Gonzalez, Noé Hernández, Fernando Manzano
Genre: Drama
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this area of Mexico, gangs are the only way that a young man or boy can increase his social standing, and so it was with Willy (Édgar Flores), nicknamed Casper, who was making his way up the chain of command of the group he belonged to, doing whatever the leader Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta) told him to. Well, almost, as Willy had a secret girlfriend and when he was supposed to be carrying out errands he would actually go and visit her. But he has his own underling, the new recruit Benito (Kristian Ferrer), who gets called Smiley after his violent initiation, and although they seem to be close, fate has other plans for them...

Sin Nombre was compared to City of God, although the comparisons were not too helpful as while the Brazilian film had a vital and kinetic vibrancy to carry it through its twists and turns, this tended towards a sullen trudge through poverty, both financial and moral, that ran on tracks as straight as the ones which the other main character travels. She is Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), who is planning to meet up with the rest of her estranged family in New Jersey, but has to be an illegal immigrant to do so, with all the trials and tribulations which that entails. Willy and Sayra will see their paths cross about halfway through the story.

But even if you're not clear on what each of their narratives have to do with each other at the start, Sin Nombre needed far more surprises than it had to become something other than a worthy slice of life drama. Writer and director Cary Fukunaga is obviously sincere in his concern for how these people are living, but that does not translate into much excitement as there's no sense of indignation, more a sorrowful acceptance. There may be shock moments, but they are few and far between and besides early on you grow attuned to the dejected tone and fully expect things to go from bad to worse.

Sayra ends up on top of a train to reach her destination, or so she hopes, as she goes along with her father and uncle as the promise of a better life in the United States, yup that old cliché again, looks to be just within her grasp. Meanwhile, Willy's boss finds out about his secret girlfriend and intends to punish him for it, so the cycle of violence continues as retribution follows retribution without any end in apparent sight. This turns out not too well for the girl, and Willy has to choke back the resentment he feels towards Lil Mago and take his beating like a man, even though he really has not done anything wrong but fall in love. We can tell this is not going to end well for anybody involved.

One thing leads to another and Willy finds himself escaping a horde of gang members with Benito the unlikely would-be assassin on his trail, sent there to regain what lowly standing he had in the heirarchy when he is blamed for allowing Willy to get away. The fugitive is on the same train carriage roof as Sayra, so it is here they meet up and although Willy is grieving, he has a place in his heart for the girl, especially as she appreciates the way he saved her from Lil Mago. One of them will have an unhappy ending, one of them will suffer too but enjoy a ray of hope, and it's all curiously unengaging as the sense that there's nothing new being said and that the drama is conducted very much on one note for too much of the time, works against something vivid that could have been fashioned from the material. It's perfectly watchable, but you leave it unenlightened and largely unmoved. Music by Marcelo Zarvos.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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