Movie Review

Sin Nombre

The greatest sin of all is risking nothing.
Sin Nombre Movie Poster

US Release Date: 03-20-2009

Directed by: Cary Fukunaga


  • Edgar Flores
  • Willy ("El Casper")
  • Kristyan Ferrer
  • Benito ("El Smiley")
  • Paulina Gaitan
  • Sayra
  • Tenoch Huerta Mejia
  • Lil Mago
  • Diana Garcia
  • Martha Marlene
  • Hector Jimenez
  • Wounded Man / Leche
  • Gerardo Taracena
  • Horacio
  • Luis Fernando Pena
  • El Sol
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: October 18th, 2012
Edgar Flores and Kristyan Ferrer in Sin Nombre.

Edgar Flores and Kristyan Ferrer in Sin Nombre.

Sin Nombre is a harrowing tale of redemption set in Mexico. The title of this Spanish language film means “Nameless”. It was written and directed by first time filmmaker Cary Fukunaga, an American of mixed Japanese and Swedish descent. He spent time with Mexican street gangs and Hispanic migrants so as to be able to authentically recreate their culture and language. He later directed the recent version of Jane Eyre starring Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell and Judi Dench. Sin Nombre was executive produced by the well known Mexican actors Diego Luna and Gael García Bernal of Y tu Mamá También fame.

The movie begins with two separate stories that join together midway through. One concerns the life of a young man named Willy living in a small town in the South of Mexico. He is a member of a violently ruthless (and heavily tattooed) street gang called Mara Salvatrucha. His gang name is Casper.

When we first meet Casper he is shown helping his young friend get initiated into the gang. The boy, named Smiley, who is only about 10 years old, willingly allows himself to get “jumped” into the gang, which means he lets the other members beat the shit out of him while the leader (whose face is literally covered in tats) counts slowly to 13. After that Smiley must kill a rival gang member to complete his initiation. Casper assists Smiley in performing this final act of depravity (see photo).

The other story tells of a family of Honduran immigrants on their way through Mexico to family members living in New Jersey. The family consists of a teenaged girl named Sayra, her father and her uncle. As they travel on foot through the jungles of Southern Mexico the father makes his brother and daughter repeat the phone number of their relatives in New Jersey in case they get separated on their incredibly perilous journey. Yes it's pretty obvious foreshadowing but it works.

Fate brings Willy and Sayra together. Without giving too much away I'll just say that he saves her life but in the process finds himself on the run from his own gang. Willy joins Sayra and her family illegally riding on top of a train with dozens of other immigrants. Willy's knowledge of the system proves invaluable, but when Willy decides to leave so as not to endanger them, Sayra impulsively follows him.

Willy is upfront about his violent past but Sayra sees something good in him. At one point she tells him that she is certain she will make it to America. “Back home, my friend Clarissa made me see this crazy neighbor, Doña Eleanor, you know, like witchcraft? She smoked this puro, then told me with her freaky voice that I'd make it to the U.S. but not in God's hand, perhaps in the Devil's.”

The weakest aspect of the movie is the outcome. It is pretty clear early on just how it will play out. Still when the inevitable denouement occurs it is emotionally powerful. The cast of young and inexperienced actors is wonderful. Some members of the cast were actual migrants. The director said in an interview that he didn't need to show them how to ride on top of a moving train as they had real life experience in doing so.

One interesting aspect of the movie is the way in which many Mexicans are shown reacting to immigrants from other Latin American countries. Here in the United States we tend to lump all illegal immigrants in the same bunch. Ironically, the movie shows Mexican children throwing rocks and taunting immigrants riding illegally on top of trains passing through Mexico on their way to the U.S.

Sin Nombre won several awards on the film festival circuit including the Directing Award and Excellence in Cinematography at Sundance in 2009. This last award was especially well deserved. It was beautifully filmed right from the opening shot of gorgeous multicolored foliage in a woodland setting. The look of the movie is as beautiful as the storyline is brutal. Despite the predictable ending Sin Nombre is a movie that will stay with you long after the final credits roll.


Reviewed on: November 10th, 2012
Sin Nombre

Sin Nombre

I was not as enamored with Sin Nombre as Patrick. The only thing that stayed with me was the setting. Sin Nombre takes place in a violent world in which law and order is dictated by tattooed covered gangs. Patrick mentioned the initiation scene, in which a kid is pushed into killing someone. This kid just needs some fatherly guidance, but his only mentors are gang members, who find acceptance and a level of respect with each other. They live in a world where you must abide by rules established by the gang leaders. The most important being absolute loyalty. We can all watch this film and be grateful that we were not born into such a place.

Patrick wrote that the phone number is pretty obvious foreshadowing. In fact the entire script is fairly basic screen writing. In short, a "bad" boy and a "good" girl meet and develop feelings for each other. The boy helps the girl and in the process redeems himself. We have seen this plot before, only not in this setting.

The character of Casper goes back as far as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or Tony from West Side Story. They were young men lacking parental guidance, which lead them into spending time with the wrong crowd, ending up with someone being killed. It is as big of a cliche as Sayra is as the naive girl who believes her love alone can save the boy she wants.

With that said, I was rooting for Casper and Sayra to make it and live happily ever after. I did get caught up in Casper's yearning for a better life. Sayra is almost too stupid to care for. She gets off the train to find Casper, leaving her father, uncle and brother for a boy she just met. When the gang catches up to them she wants to swim back to help Casper. Sayra lacks in logic and is emotionally driven.

Sin Nombre is predictable and unoriginal in plot. The most unique aspect is the horrible setting. The scenes of the gang members tattooed covered faces and their violence ridden lifestyle are the strongest images presented. I will remember them much longer than the simple plot or tired characters.