As the star of the first story line, the believably noble Edgar Flores plays Casper, a teenage member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, living in Tapachula, Mexico. In Tapachula, the trains heading north for the border roar through town each night, but Casper can only dream of what life is like elsewhere. As a mentor to Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), Casper teaches a younger boy how to steal, murder, and sacrifice everything for the gang. Conflicted as a mentor and murderer, he finds escape from the absurdity of gang life in the arms of the beautiful Martha Marlene (Diana Garcia), despite knowing the relationship could bring about his death.
As the quiet star of the second story line, Paulina Gaitan plays Sayra, an impulsive teenager whose life in Honduras is thrown into upheaval by the arrival of her father. Sayra joins both her father, and uncle on an exhausting journey north toward Texas, where they hope to safely sneak across the border into the United States. Sayra's story merges with Casper's, when the train she and her family are on pulls into Tapachula on a stormy night. Boarding the train to rob and steal alongside Smiley and Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta), an emotional Casper finds a way to grant Sayra and her family protection from a dark fate. His journey ultimately takes him further north aboard the train, where he strikes up an odd friendship with Sayra.
The two character's stories dovetail together smoothly, and what makes the larger story so fascinating, may be Fukunaga's talent for bringing his own convincing brand of realism to life on screen. The director pulls off a major coup in delivering a film that attempts to accurately portray life aboard the trains, while still navigating the excitement of the film's myriad of violent plot twists. Beyond the balance of these two elements, it's the little things that grab your attention in this movie, the moments of shared humanity in the face of insurmountable odds, and the moments of human cruelty that never seem to be too far behind.
Generously showered with fruit by kind onlookers in one small town, Sayra, Casper and the rest of the train's passengers are later pelted with rocks while riding through another less welcoming village. There are little nuances in these moments that seem all the more impressive considering Sin Nombre is Fukunaga's feature film directorial debut. The fact that I'm suggesting you drag your friends out to see this movie should be enough to let you know my opinion. But if you're still unsure, let me just mention that I'd be surprised if this film doesn't make numerous top ten lists and garner some much deserved attention, come awards season. You can take my word for it, or ignore me, but either way you should go see this movie for yourself.