America has always been viewed as the land of hope and prosperity. It is the bench mark that many countries try to set themselves up to, and apart from. People often risk their lives attempting to get to America, but sometimes the journey there is just as harsh as the conditions they are traveling from. Cary Fukunaga's film, Sin Nombre,looks at both the physical and mental journey that some people take to get to the supposed promise land.
Willy (Edgar Flores), known as El Casper to most, is part of the Confetti gang in Mexico. One night El Casper, El Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), and the leader of the Confetti gang, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), attempt to rob stowaways on a train. One of the stowaways happens to be Sayra (Paulina Gaitán). Having travelled from Honduras through to Mexico with her father and uncle, Sayra is one of many Latin Americans on board the train hoping to sneak into America and start a new life. Unbeknownst to Willy, the decision he will ultimately make this night will change both his and Sayra's life forever.
There was a point in Sin Nombre where I thought the film would go off the rails. It was just after a key moment on the train, where Sayra's intervention helps Willy, when I thought "this film is going to go downhill". I could see how future scenes were going to play out, and to a certain extent they did just that. I will not lie, this movie is filled with clichéd moments. Still, I found myself, by the end, completely engulfed with Sin Nombre. I could not help but root for Willy and Sayra despite knowing, deep down, what their outcome most likely would be. Cary Fukunaga provided just enough of both the Willy/Sayra story and the illegal immigrant tale to keep my interest throughout.
Although Fukunaga often juxtaposes hardships of gang life with the plight of fleeing Latin American, this is a redemption tale first and foremost. The theme of redemption is everywhere in the film. El Casper is the misguided soul who must atone for his sins several times throughout the picture. Whether he is taking his lumps from his fellow gang members for lying to Lil' Mago; taking his lumps in a hostel for wearing the trademark gang teardrop; Willy is constantly reminded of, and paying for, his sins. Even Sayra remarks in the film that a fortune teller said she would be delivered to the USA "not in God's hand but in the hands of the devil". Yet can redemption be achieve by using one illegal act, such as helping Sayra sneak into the US, to cancel out another?
It is only throughWilly's journey to salvation do we really get a true glimpse of the illegal immigrants plight in Central America. Fukanaga shows that the Latin Americans who stowaway on trains, not in but on top of, have to deal with many hardships along their journey. Not only must they keep a constant watch for border patrol but also: local gangs who want rob them, rock throwing villagers who consider them traitors for trying to leave, harsh weather conditions, and limited access to food and water. The hope and faith of their journey is embodied in the character of Sayra. Though Fukanaga points out in the film that the odds of making into America alive are slim; and even within the United States an illegal immigrant will never truly be safe.
Both Edgar Flores and Paulina Gaitán are charismatic enough to keep you interested in their budding friendship. They are the real standouts, acting wise, in the picture. They somehow find a way to transcend the formulaic aspects of the script. The clichés in the story are what hold Sin Nombre back at times. It is during these moments were the movie plays like a lighter version of City of God with a sprinkle of Y Tu Mamá También mixed in. In regards to the latter, this is more in terms of how Fukunaga uses the immigrant climate in Mexico as the backdrop of Willey and Sayra's journey. Still, despite its flaws, there was enough in Sin Nombre that warrants a viewing.