Friday, April 3, 2009
The script for "Sin Nombre" could've easily been passed to the Three Amigos, also known as Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth"), Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Amores Perros") and Alfonso Cuarón ("Y Tu Mama Tambien"). Any of those virtuosic, big-name auteurs would've made a pulse-pounder praised by critics but gummed up by stylized direction, shaky camerawork and needless narrative acrobatics.
In the careful, confident hands of California-born, NYU-schooled director Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Sin Nombre" is instead an elegant, heartbreaking fable, equal parts Shakespearean tragedy, neo-Western and mob movie but without the pretension of those genres. How strange it is to praise an American director (especially one making his first feature, with much at stake, in Mexico) for his restraint. Fukunaga, who also wrote the script, has made one of the most memorable directorial debuts in recent memory.
"Sin Nombre" deftly weaves two stories of desperation. The first centers on Willy (charismatic newcomer Edgar Flores), an introspective Mexican teenager beginning to chafe against the murderous strictures of his gang. The second follows Sayra (disarmingly played by Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran girl stowing away on a train through Mexico in the hopes of sneaking across the Texas border. As their fates collide and diverge, the film tenderly considers the rubs of a life lived on the verge of something -- on the verge of death, of hope, of honor and dishonor, damnation and redemption.
"Sin Nombre" is pure filmmaking: a great story told in beautiful images.
-- Dan Zak
Sin Nombre R, 96 minutes Contains violence, language and sexual content. At Landmark's E Street Cinema and Landmark's Bethesda Row.