A young man, Casper, and a new gang member, boy of twelve named Smiley by those who inducted him, enter a smoky shanty in Southern Mexico, a gang base known as “the destroyer,” rap music blares as tattooed men walk about.  Some iron clothes, some get new ink to represent their latest conquest, others eat or drink, as they make their way through the cacophony of stimuli.  Men wearing tattoos on their faces greet the two with gang signs, signaling loyalty to the “Treces,”  commonly known as MS13.  The two boys pass through room upon room of drugs and drinking, passing a wall of firearms before meeting a man known as “Lil’ Mago,” the MS13 clique leader of Chiapas, Mexico.  Mago stands tall over the boys, carrying his infant son, covered from face to waist in gang tattoos, wearing each proudly.  Upon his face is a large “MS13,” covering from forehead to chin.  He leads the boys to a cage out back where a member of a rival gang, the Chavalas, is chained up.  The younger boy has not yet earned his place in the gang, and this rival member is his way in.  Mago hands the boy a metal tube in two parts, inserts a shotgun shell, and hands the weapon to the boy.  The older boy, Casper, assists Smiley as he slams the two pieces together, firing the shot into the Chavala’s head.  Mago tells the boy, “The pain goes away, but la Mara is forever.”  Smiley has earned his place among one of the world’s most dangerous gangs.

Sin Nombre is about the intersection of two lives on the railways of Mexico.  Each story leads two lives together, and after meeting, the two find connection while heading north on the rails.  A member of the ruthless gang “MS13,” el Casper, desperately tries to find peace in a world of turmoil as he heads north to leave his gang behind, hunted the entire way by ruthless murderers.  A Honduran teenager, Sayra, is traveling to the United States on top of the trains of Mexico to find a better life with her father and his second family.  As she makes her way north, she learns how hard being an immigrant can be, escaping near death encounters and the underbelly of alien lands.  The two meet atop these trains, and Sayra tries to find comfort in this lost soul, Casper.  The only thing the two have in common: their travels north, and their desperate attempt at survival.

Sin Nombre  is a movie made in 2009 by writer/director Carey Fukunaga, who directed many shorts and a documentary before this film.  It features all unknown Latin American actors, and Fukunaga spent two years researching the movie by traveling with gang members on the trains of Southern Mexico.  He also had two gang members edit the script to get the slang right, according to the IMDB site.  When Sin Nombre debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, it won the U.S. Dramatic Directing Award,  and also nabbed the U.S. Dramatic Excellence in Cinematography Award.

Each scene in this film is riveting.  The work that Fukunaga put in clearly shows in the accuracy of the movie, from the harsh life in a gang to the hardships faced by immigrants migrating north.  The whole split story idea in the beginning of Sin Nombre is brilliant, highlighting two very different people who go through totally different struggles only to come together and have more in common than anyone could have expected.  Many of us hear about gang violence in the news, but what we take away from it are numbers: how many dead, how many attacks, how many arrested, how long will it continue?  This film gives the viewer a glimpse into the lives of those involved in the gang, how they see themselves as a family protecting one another while brutalizing the community they call home while taking the children from loving families and turning them into ruthless killers. On the other hand, the movie highlights struggles faced by many South Americans who wish to make a new life in the United States.  It highlights the struggles they face day to day riding these dangerous hunks of metal towards “salvation,” under attack the whole way.  It shows corruption and deceit, danger and violence, all associated with getting to the border.  They are hunted, robbed, killed, and torn apart from their families, all to make a better living than back home.  All of the blood, sweat and tears for a goal that most do not reach.  Sin Nombre depicts the hardships people face that many do not realize, the struggle to survive while most of us sit by and watch it unfold on the evening news, if it is even mentioned at all.  Carey Fukunaga and those associated with this production earned the awards they received at Sundance without a doubt.

I would recommend this movie to anyone who wants to get an in depth look at the lives of those in the gangs of Mexico, as well as a glimpse into the lives of those making their way to the border.  I would recommend this film to anyone looking for a thrilling story of two wayward souls on parallel paths.  I would recommend this movie to anyone who loves Greek tragedies filled with lost love and inner turmoil, or Westerns filled with blood and violence, or informational films filled with educational bits and insights.  I would recommend Sin Nombre to anyone, it’s a great piece of work that should be seen.


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