A pivotal character in the Mexico City gang thriller Sin Nombre has a face completely covered in tattoos: letters, symbols, menacing marks. He’s like a real-life Darth Maul. And even though the movie itself pushes into the brutal territory of teenage violence and revenge spirals, there’s nothing in it more depressing than this face—never to be gainfully employed in public, never to be loved, only feared. (Thankfully, actor Tenoch Huerta isn’t committed to Method research.)
Writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga uses Mr. Scary Face as the catalyst for an unusually sprawling chase to the American border, impressive for a debut feature. Suffice it to say that three characters come to dominate the narrative: Casper (Flores), who hopes to escape a terrible trap; Smiley (Ferrer), his pint-size former friend and armed pursuer; and the waiflike Sayra (Gaitan), whom Casper attracts as a ward after a truly heroic act of defense. Sin Nombre means “nameless,” but for all its conventions, the film is hardly generic; the rainy, purple-hued vistas, many of them shot from the roof of a northbound train, are photographed by up-and-coming ace Adriano Goldman, and the nihilistic anxieties are raw and real.
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