In Cary Fukunaga’s debut feature (Spanish with English subtitles, made by a half-swedish half-Japanese American) about Mexican gangs and illegal immigration, the girl, Sayra, says in complete faith, “Once I was told by a witch, I will go to the US, not holding the hands of God, but holding the hands of the Devil.” The devil in question is Casper or Willey, with a teardrop tattoo next to his right eye, a member of the ‘Mara Salvatrucha’ gang in Mexico. The girl has come a long way from Honduras, with her father (who was in the US and later deported) and her uncle to find a passage to the US. It’s a hard life, they know. But, at least, they would not have to go hungry.
Now, the gang depicted in the film does actually exist in Mexico (In the film, it’s led by a charismatic youth called “The magician” with his face covered with an elaborate tattoo, which fails to hide his crooked charm.), so is the illegal immigration from Latin America to the US via Mexico in freight trains.
But as we know, a good film must, first and foremost, tell a story, and Fukunaga (who won best director’s award at the Sundance film festival this year) does a heartbreaking beautiful job in telling the story, without trying to gloss over the reality of the circumstances and romanticising the reality.
In short, it’s a story of the people living the reality. We are introduced to Casper, a Mara gang member. We are not sure if he likes his job. He, however, is initiating a young novice, Smiley, whose sole aim in life is to be a part of the gang. He is love with Martha. That’s where the problem starts, so begins the unpredictability where the film is heading. Soon, Casper, who now calls himself Willie, finds himself on a freight training on which Sayra is travelling — Martha is dead and Willie has killed The Magician. He knows, sooner or later, the gang will catch up with him; they have money. He is not worried about dying, but hates the idea that he does not know when. Sayra, on the other hand, finds in Willie, a friend, who can help — her devil. It’s his time for redemption.
So, a gang-bang saga turns into a love story, and a love story into a road movie. But not so fast. Smiley, Casper’s novice, now chases Casper through the length of Mexico to extract revenge. So, back to the gang-bang drama.
The beauty of the film lies in the fact that Fukunaga has successfully evoked various genres in the course of his story-telling without falling into the trap of predictability. Till the very end, you do not know what’s going to happen; especially, at the end, when Smiley meets Casper. Add to that the documentary-style realism and breathtakingly beautiful photography, you have a perfect motion picture.