When seeking out romantic comedies, or movies where lots of things explode, you can—and should—be picky. There are tons of movies about grown men acting like retarded teenagers, for example, and so it's worth distinguishing between the slacker comedies Role Models and Step Brothers, because one will make you laugh, and the other will make you worry that you've lost the capacity for experiencing joy.
But there are not enough movies like Sin Nombre—a film that is simply worth seeing, sans nitpicking, due to the fact that it fictionalizes an experience rarely caught on film: immigrating to the United States.
Casper (Edgar Flores) is a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, a Central American street gang. Casper occasionally sneaks away from his life of violence to bed his beautiful girlfriend, but the Mara Salvatrucha is made up of terrifying men who insist on absolute loyalty—so when Casper's double life is discovered, a vast and well-connected network is mobilized against him. Casper's only hope for survival is to join the seemingly endless parade of emigrants looking north for a better life, and on the way, he meets the solemn Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), with whom he forms a quiet bond.
The plot here isn't going to blow anyone away—it's basically The Outsiders, only the greasers have scary face tattoos (and will rape and kill you). But Sin Nombre (which was a hit earlier this year at Sundance, after being developed at the Sundance Institute) has more to offer than a gangland plot. The visually immaculate film is at its best when simply following its characters as they walk for days through sweltering forests, or hitch a ride on the top of a train heading for Texas, or huddle under tarps when it rains. These scenes alone absolutely justify the existence of Sin Nombre: Considering thousands of people annually risk their lives to come to the US, it's shocking there aren't more movies about them.