You’ll want to watch the DVD of writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s acclaimed feature debut on the biggest television set you can find. That’s not only because this film is full of astonishing Latin American location work from a newcomer with a stunning camera eye, but also because Universal saw fit not to make new subtitles for the DVD version of the film, leaving us with only the tiny, eye-strain inducing subtitles from the theatrical release. That technical annoyance aside, this blend of social drama, action-thriller and love story unites American filmmaking slickness with what feels like an insider’s view of the brutal travails of Central American immigrants and the sickness of life inside today’s gangs. The story brings together a heartbroken Mexican gangbanger on the run (Marco Antonio Aguirre) and an innocent Honduran teen (Paulina Gaitan) trying to unite with family in New Jersey in an involving and violent story that does a fine job of humanizing the “illegal immigrants” that fill the fevered imagination of America’s right wing.
On his first feature (produced by the “Y Tu Mama Tambien” twosome of Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal), Berkeley, California-bred writer-director Fukunaga has made an impossibly slick, extremely well-acted combination of indie subject matter and mainstream style that involves us with strong characterization, fine acting from a cast of unknowns, and visual brilliance. Even if “Sin Nombre” ultimately doesn’t quite justify the heartrending journey the film takes us on, it’s a mightily impressive debut that will inspire young filmmakers and seriously anger Lou Dobbs — two highly praiseworthy achievements.