Before setting pen to paper, Sin Nombre writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga purportedly rode the rails in the company of real illegal immigrants traveling from Mexico to the U.S. But from the looks of it, he spent even more time studying Brazilian director Fernando Meirelless slicked-up slum porn City of God: diminutive kids with gunscheck; carefully lit and art-directed shantytownscheck; doomed teen romanceyep, that too. In fairness, Fukunagas film isnt quite as ostentatiously vulgar as Meirelless: Its loftier aspirations are obvious from the opening shot of El Casper (Edgar Flores), a young initiate in the fact-based Mara Salvatrucha gang, staring fixedly at a photo enlargement of a leafy wooded landscapea signal flare (along with his teardrop tattoo) that hes really a soulful poet-dreamer trapped in a violent existence. After his girlfriend is raped and murdered by the gangs more elaborately tattooed leader, Casper makes a break for it, hopping the same U.S.-bound freight train on which Honduran teen Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) and her father are heading to the promised land. Meanwhile, Caspers best friend, Smiley (pint-sized Kristian Ferrer), is dispatched to track the fugitive downhmmm, do you think these two amigos will find their personal loyalty tested by obeisance to La Mara? Lushly photographed and meticulously sound-designed, Sin Nombre is visceral without being vital, researched without ever seeming lived-in. The best that can be said is that its a more honest film on the subject of immigration than the recent Crossing Overbut then again, so is Beverly Hills Chihuahua.
Starts: April 3. Daily, 2009