Sin Nombre

The United States is populated by immigrants. Every immigrant family's story is different but each one is the culmination of initiative, grit and determination. Even though the U.S. is the ultimate destination in this affecting movie, we watch folks from Honduras as they pass through Mexico, enroute to the Estados Unidos.

First we meet "Willy," a tattooed gang banger who is helping initiate a boy called "Smiley" into the rules of his ruthless gang: Smiley must accept a beating by his fellow gang members, kill his first opponent and adhere to their code of silence. Problem is, Willy himself isn't as diligent as his gang would like him to be. He prefers the company of his lovely girlfriend and does NOT enjoy administering those beatings.

On a parallel track, a young woman named "Sayra" has been convinced by her long-absent father to accompany him back to New Jersey, where he had immigrated and started a new family. She is hesitant because she is convinced she can make it by herself but he wants to mend fences and offer her a new beginning, so she goes with him.

Three things:
  1. "Sin Nombre" means "without name" or, as I would translate it, "Nameless."
  2. The ubiquity of those Latino gangs is particularly chilling. After his initiation, Smiley is told that he now has thousands of brothers to watch his back, plus there is reference to "the boss in California."
  3. The use of a hand gesture as a "secret" signal reminds me of the photos I see of some rappers and hip hop artists as they slyly incorporate their own gang's hand gestures into publicity shots.

Because we aren't familiar with any of the actors and this movie is extremely well directed, this almost feels like a documentary rather than a scripted piece of fiction. It is engrossing, suspenseful and poignant.