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Sin Nombre Review – Harrowing

Sin Nombre (2008)

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[Total: 1   Average: 5/5]

Directed By: Cary Joji Fukunaga

Cast: Edgar Flores, Kristyan Ferrer, Paulina Gaitan

Language: Spanish

Sin Nombre is the type of movie which will make you feel good about your life. However bad you may feel it is at present, it will seem better than the life that has been depicted in the movie. Sin Nombre is a Mexican-American adventure thriller by debutante director Cary Joji Fukunaga. It is a movie about hardships, illegal immigration and most importantly it is about desperation to change the future even when knowing that the fate is sealed.

The movie intertwines three lives and two stories. Sayra (Paulina Gaitan) is from Honduras and is trying to escape poverty by getting into the USA where her father’s new family awaits. Sayra, along with her father Horacio (Gerardo Taracena) and uncle stowaway on a train with the aim of illegally crossing the border. At La Bombilla Mexico, Willy “El Casper” (Edgar Flores) accompanied by Benito “El Smiley” (Kristyan Ferrer) and Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia) rob the passengers. Smiley, Casper and Lil Mago are part of Mara Salvatrucha gang and Lil Mago is the gang leader. Lil Mago tries to rape Sayra and in a fit of rage Willy kills him. He sends Smiley back who reports the incident to the gang. Seeing that his days are numbered he agrees to help Sayra cross the border.

The Journey:

The journey is not easy by any means: they have to brave the rains and the trees whose branches can knock you off. At some stations they have to get down the moving train to circumvent the inspecting officials. With absolutely no money to buy food they have to rely on the goodwill of people who throw oranges and at some stations provide them with food. But as they reach closer to their destination the oranges turn to stones and they are shot at by the officials. It is absolute torture and the entire journey lasts 3-4 weeks.


It is her journey to the promised land along with her father which forms the main plot. Her story is of hope and yet she is apprehensive. Not sure of the reception from the new family and whether the arduous journey she is taking is worth it. Because Casper saves her life, she develops warm feelings towards him, even though he is a gangster. Her shot to happiness is escaping with Casper to the US. Her desperation is to save him knowing that it is an impossible task.

El Casper:

He is a member of one of the most dreaded gangs in the world: Mara Salvatrucha. Casper is the one who initiates Smiley into the gang. He loves Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia) but keeps her a secret from the gang. He wants to quit the gang but knows there no way out. Meanwhile, Lil Mago kills Martha and takes all the hope from Casper. And this is the reason why he kills Lil Mago when he tries to rape Sayra. He knows his fate is sealed as the gang never forgets or relents and he can’t have a life with Sayra as she will also be dead for being with him.


Smiley is initiated into the gang by Casper who is his mentor. He sticks with Casper all the time and keeps his secrets. After the incident on the train he has to prove his loyalty to the gang. Caught between his friendship with Casper and his loyalty to the gang, his life proves how seductive the gang culture is for kids. His arc from an innocent kid to a tattooed gang member is both harrowing and yet exciting.

I became a fan of Cary Fukunaga after watching Beasts of No Nation. Both the movies draw a parallel- where in Beasts Agu gets seduced by the war and its effects, here Smiley by the gang. Agu was saved in Beasts but in Sin Nombre Smiley has fallen into an abyss which has only one outcome.

One of the best parts of Sin Nombre is the detailed showcasing of the gang culture of Mara Salvatrucha. From the gang signs to the tattoos the look and feel is terrifying. Watch Sin Nombre and feel grateful for your life and share your ratings above.

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