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Honduran teenager Sayra joins her father and uncle in an attempt to cross the border from Mexico into the US, all of them seeking a better life. Before they can get to the border, they have to take a perilous journey on top of a train that will take them north. Their journey is further complicated by the appearance of a young gang member called Willy who is trying to escape from his life on the streets, but the people from his past are close behind them and have sworn revenge for the death of their leader...

Sin Nombre
If there’s one thing that Sin Nombre strives for—and succeeds in achieving—it’s realism. Writer-director Cary Fukanaga spent two years researching this film, interviewing gang members and spending time on the streets with the gangs. After writing the film, he then went back for advice on the dialogue to make sure that not only was the slang he used ‘correct’, but that it was also up to date. The work he put in is obvious to anyone who watches Sin Nombre. There are never any moments when the characters act in a way that feels unrealistic and the only slight complaint I have in this regard is the occasional Americanization used in the subtitles.

Sin Nombre is a film about two intersecting stories, both of which give us a view of two different tales of hard times in Mexico. First there is the story of Willy, who we see bringing a new young member into his gang where he knows he will be given a violent initiation. A lot of work has gone into the screenplay to give the viewer a sense of the hierarchy within the gang. Not everyone who joins gets a gun right away; new recruits have to make do with improvised weapons until they prove themselves or gain favour with the leader. The second story follows Sayra as she takes the long journey towards the US, just one of hundreds of people sitting on the roof of a train hoping for a better life if they can get over the border.

Sin Nombre
The storyline itself is relatively simple and turns into a straightforward chase movie about halfway through. This is the point when most of the build-up and introduction to this ‘real world’ has taken place and the director feels free to lay on some decent set pieces as we head towards Sayra’s attempt to get over the border and Willy’s attempt at redemption. I enjoyed the performances from the young actors, in particular Édgar Flores as Willy, who was an absolute beginner. IMDb doesn’t list any upcoming movies for him but I’d keep an eye on him as one to watch for the future.

Sin Nombre

Video


Sin Nombre is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1. I’m not sure whether it’s because I’ve reviewed a fair few high definition discs or not, but I’m starting to find the picture quality of DVDs a little underwhelming, more so than the audio quality. The most likely reason is that the technology hit a plateau many years ago and with Blu-ray now more mainstream, there’s no extra investment being made available to improve the DVD format. The presentation here is fair, though. One of the key points to pick out from the visual experience is that since the story follows a group of people across a few days, the excellent lighting always helps to tell you what time of the day it is without putting a time stamp on the screen. Getting down to the nitty gritty, I thought the picture could be a little sharper and this is the first DVD I’ve watched in a while where I’ve noticed edge enhancement during some scenes (see the screenshot below).

Sin Nombre

Audio


There are two audio options available—Spanish 5.1 and Spanish stereo—so I chose the surround track for this review. The action on-screen doesn’t allow for significant use of the surround channels without drawing attention to the fact, with a lot of key scenes made up of dialogue and close-ups, however there are moments that were pleasantly surprising. The scenes based on and around the train are most impressive, most of all one gunfight between rival gangs near a train station, which sends bullets flying from one speaker to another with train noises in the distance.

Sin Nombre

Extras


Ten short deleted scenes are included on the disc, with some of them being deleted ‘moments’ rather than full scenes. However, some of them do reveal a little more about Sayra and Smiley, fleshing out the characters and giving us more about their relationships. The only other extra feature is a commentary with director Cary Fukunaga and producer Amy Kaufman. The director talks a lot about the research he did for the movie and the work the actors put in to perfecting the accents for the social class of their characters. He reveals some of the questions he asked the real gangs when he interviewed them, like ‘with tattoos on your face, who goes shopping for toilet paper?’

Sin Nombre

Overall


Sin Nombre is a success on two levels. First, it is a fast-paced efficient thriller with good performances. Second, it is a hard-hitting realistic portrayal of gang life in Mexico that has earned it comparisons with City of God, which is always the benchmark other critics like to use for their quotes that end up on the posters. This DVD might not be packed with extras but the movie itself is strong enough for me to recommend it on its own.


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