It’s almost impossible to believe that Sin Nombre is Cary Joji Fukunaga’s feature debut; its storytelling is so accomplished, its visual style so crisp, and its heightened naturalism and performances so textured. A social-political thriller in the tradition of American film noir, Sin Nombre is set on the border, where Mexico becomes the crucible and the fearsome gangs of today’s Mexican countryside, the gauntlet, to freedom. The stories of Sayra, a teenager living in Honduras and hungering for a brighter future, and teen gang members Smiley and Casper, for whom the Mara Salvatrucha is nearly their entire universe, become interlaced on the train to the border, a journey that will determine the future of their lives. Young Casper is already a wary veteran of the “Mara,” and his new recruit is the 12-year-old Smiley, full of bravado and looking for status. The two run afoul of the everyday violence that penetrates their world and find themselves fellow passengers with Sayra on a States-bound freight, hugging the rooftop as their precarious journey unfolds. At once a love story and a chase film, a thrill ride and a vision of an apocalyptic hell, Sin Nombre demonstrates Fukunaga’s skill; he envelops us in a nightmare that is all too real for its inhabitants. Sin Nombre is a portrait of hope and desperation and announces the launching of a shining new filmmaking career.