| A realistic depiction of how difficult it is for immigrants to cross the border from Mexico into the United States. An amazing debut effort from writer/director Cary Fukunga, age 31, who masterfully blends two stories with a visual panache.
The translation of the Spanish title is "Without a Name." It is a fitting description of the multitude of anonymous illegal immigrants coming from Central America. They are hopeful of a better standard of living in our great land of opportunity.
Beautiful Honduran teenager Sayra (Paulina Gaitan who looks like a young Salma Hayek) joins her estranged father and uncle on an arduous trek through the jungles of Guatemala and across the river to Mexico where the trio hops a freight train bound for the northern border.
The other storyline revolves around street smart, tough guy Casper (Edgar Flores), a member of a ruthless Mexican gang.
The movie opens with Casper gazing out at a colorful vista pondering his future. He recruits 12-year-old Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer) for the group. Smiley goes through a two-part initiation ritual where he is brutally beaten up and then must kill a rival gang member.
The leader of the gang, Lil' Mago (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), becomes suspicious of Casper's frequent absences. He discovers that Casper has a sexy girlfriend named Martha (Diane Garcia) who is not from the hood. Casper is beaten up for keeping Martha a secret from the group. Lil' Mago makes advances on Martha and commits an unspeakable act of violence.
In a test of loyalty, Lil' Mago has Casper and Smiley join him on a mission to rob the defenseless vagrants riding illegally on the boxcar roofs. The paths of Sayra and Casper cross when she is assaulted by Lil' Mago. Casper retaliates with his machete and becomes a marked man. Smiley jumps off the train and reports the news back to the gang.
This sets in motion a thrilling second half with the gang in hot pursuit of Casper and Sayra.
The movie, which has both bloody violence and tender romance, will remind you of "City of God" meets "Under the Same Moon." It is another shining example of the best that independent filmmaking has to offer, much like last year's "Frozen River."
Very natural and realistic portrayals are rendered by a cast of unknown actors. The spectacular cinematography provides the audience with a scenic travelogue of the Mexican countryside. The trains are depicted as haunting behemoths.
The dialogue is in Spanish with quick, easy-to-read English subtitles that do not detract from the suspenseful action. The art department deserves kudos for the intricate tattoos covering the faces and the bodies of the gang members.
The movie holds your interest and passes by quickly with a speedy running time of 96 minutes. The movie won awards for directing and cinematography at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, which bodes well as a precursor for year-end recognition.
This dramatic thriller is now playing exclusively at the Tivoli and AMC Studio 30.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"