By Ben Lyons
"The best film I've seen this year!"

Sin Nombre, from first time feature writer/director Cary Fukunaga, tells two powerful intersecting stories of immigration through Mexico to the US border.

“The visual intensity of the action is eye catching. The sweeping Mexican countryside becomes a character in the film. The combination of professional actors and locals is effective and adds to the unique telling of this immigrant story. Interesting to note, the film won awards at the Sundance Film Festival for both Directing and Cinematography, and for good reason. I know it’s only March, but Sin Nombre is the best film I’ve seen so far this year. See it!

The best movie I’ve seen in 2009.

By Claudia Puig
"4 stars! An epic, edge-of-the-seat thriller!"

4 stars (out of 4)

Sin Nombre is a powerful, wrenching thriller that weaves together several absorbing stories set in Central America. It also is the most moving and well-told saga of Latin American immigrants bound for the USA since 1983's El Norte.

First-time filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga spent time riding cargo trains in Central America to research the film he wrote and directed.

His efforts paid off. The film has a documentary-style realism about it and a haunting sense of the gauntlet faced by migrants, as well as the far-reaching implications of gang violence.

That this is Fukunaga's first film is astonishing, given its sharp script, technical proficiency and suspenseful pacing. The ensemble cast is top-notch.

The trek, which entails hopping freight trains and sleeping in ditches, collides with the lawlessness of Lil' Mago, Casper and Smiley. The course of their entwined lives is fascinating, sometimes tragic and always unpredictable.

Sin Nombre, in Spanish with English subtitles, is an epic and edge-of the-seat thriller. The film's lyrical ending, with a teary smile on Sayra's young face, is understated and moving, adding redemption and hope to an intense tale of brutality, cruel misfortune and unexpected courage.

By John Powers
"A gripping tale of redemption!"

Hailed as a revelation at Sundance, is a gripping tale of redemption and flight.

The movie is impressively directed by newcomer Cary Joji Fukunaga, who nabbed the directing prize and became the festival’s It boy.  And no wonder.  He has a knack for vibrant images, a delicate way with actors, and the ability to make a thriller feel as true as a documentary.

By Joe Morgenstern
"A revelation!"

By Hollywood standards Sin Nombre is a very small movie, shot on a tight budget in Mexico, but it's a very big deal. This astonishing debut feature announces the arrival of a lavishly gifted filmmaker, Cary Joji Fukanaga. (He's California-born, of a Swedish-American mother and a Japanese-American father.) The subject is immigration, the language is Spanish -- with good English subtitles -- the scope is epic and the achievement, though solidly grounded in conventional storytelling, is a revelation.

The images are stunning -- there's a sense of whole populations on the move -- and all the more so for being shot, by Adriano Goldman, in 35mm color. (The use of film cameras instead of digital equipment was a crucial aesthetic choice that contrasts grinding squalor with graphic grandeur.)"
"Within that scheme, the camera makes vivid discoveries: chilling gang rituals; a national gang network of cell phones, covert spotters and secret signs; a Mexican response to Central American freight-train riders that ranges from tossing oranges to throwing rocks. And within the harrowing narrative lies the affecting beginnings of a love story."

The filmmaker directs his actors -- some of them seasoned professionals, some of them in front of the camera for the first time -- with an absolute authority that's absolutely invisible. Scenes play as if caught on the fly by a documentarian. (One of the movie's most conspicuous strengths is its quasi-documentary detail.) "Sin Nombre" makes no judgments on immigration as a political issue. Mr. Fukanaga's purpose is to evoke the immigrants' experience, which he does with such eloquence and power as to inspire awe.

By Betsy Sharkey

There is much strange beauty in the poverty and desperation captured by Sin Nombre, an evocative and impressive first feature from writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga tracing both the journey north taken by so many from Mexico and Central America and the gang violence that stunts the lives of the many others who stay behind.

This thriller/love story is, in a way, a simple one, though Fukunaga plays many emotional notes before he is finished, with sentiment that is restrained rather than indulged.

Flores gives Willy a poignant strength, a quiet dignity and a knowing resignation that stays with you long after the movie has ended. Gaitan's Sayra is heartbreaking in her hope.

There is bitter and breathtaking truth in the story and in the story- telling, which won Fukunaga the directing and cinematography award in the dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. He rode the trains for days himself before making the movie, and in Sin Nombre, he pulls you up there alongside him.

By Lou Lumenick
"A vividly authentic romantic thriller!"

One of the most impressive feature directing debuts I've seen in a long time is Cary Joji Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, which is in the dramatic competition. This character-driven thriller about illegal Honduran immigrants who travel atop trains on their way to the United States -- centering on a romance between two teenagers, one a Mexican fleeing gang members who want to kill him -- drew a standing ovation when it showed at the Eccles Auditorium on Sunday. Fukunaga, who grew up in California but now lives in Brooklyn Heights, directed a short in NYU's master's program that won him a student academy award. I met this extremely talented guy -- and his male star Edgar Flores, a young Hondouran who had never made a movie before -- at a dinner thrown by Focus Features, which bankrolled this gripping Spanish-language feature and plans to release it in U.S. theaters beginning in March. Focus CEO James Schamus called Sin Nombre a "big f-- you to the idea of movies aimed at liberals who feel sorry for immigrants."

By Dan Zak
"Pure filmmaking! An elegant, heartbreaking fable. One of the most memorable directorial debuts in recent memory!"

The script for Sin Nombre could've easily been passed to the Three Amigos, also known as Mexican directors Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) and Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien). Any of those virtuosic, big-name auteurs would've made a pulse-pounder praised by critics but gummed up by stylized direction, shaky camerawork and needless narrative acrobatics.

In the careful, confident hands of California-born, NYU-schooled director Cary Joji Fukunaga, Sin Nombre is instead an elegant, heartbreaking fable, equal parts Shakespearean tragedy, neo-Western and mob movie but without the pretension of those genres. How strange it is to praise an American director (especially one making his first feature, with much at stake, in Mexico) for his restraint. Fukunaga, who also wrote the script, has made one of the most memorable directorial debuts in recent memory.

Sin Nombre deftly weaves two stories of desperation. The first centers on Willy (charismatic newcomer Edgar Flores), an introspective Mexican teenager beginning to chafe against the murderous strictures of his gang. The second follows Sayra (disarmingly played by Paulina Gaitan), a Honduran girl stowing away on a train through Mexico in the hopes of sneaking across the Texas border. As their fates collide and diverge, the film tenderly considers the rubs of a life lived on the verge of something -- on the verge of death, of hope, of honor and dishonor, damnation and redemption.

Sin Nombre is pure filmmaking: a great story told in beautiful images.