Sin Nombre (Fukunaga, 2009)

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Not to be a complete buzz kill, but what’s the big deal about Sin Nombre? Has it gotten to the point where critics are this bowled over when a filmmaker competently utilizes dynamic locations to highlight character conflict even while depending on conventional tropes in the process? Maybe so, since Cary Fukunaga’s debut film impressively masks cliche with its exotic locales and nuanced lead performances, creating a strange tension between commercial and art filmmaking that is neither inventive nor damning.

Sin Nombre follows the Road film map almost to the letter, but Fukunaga injects just the right amount of shocking violence to muddy the waters, often ignoring the intimate exploration of sacrifice at its core while highlighting brutal gang rituals and acts of betrayal. Every plot turn is obvious, most heinously the violent act that sets the entire film in motion.

Only late in the film, when Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and Casper (Edgar Flores) find themselves alone, dependent on each other for survival, do we get a sense of their shared pain. Fukunaga keeps their backstories rightfully ambiguous, but never allows this coupling to turn into something more impacting.¬†The inevitable ending arrives far too early, and Sayra and Casper are left as emblems instead of characters. Sin Nombre is an often striking film, but ultimately frustrating since it doesn’t give the lead characters more time to evolve together. And it’s not enough to say their hostile environment won’t allow it.

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