Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.

Economically tense, compelling and confrontational, writer/director Cary Fukunaga’s lean 2009 Sin Nombre boasted deftly thoughtful screenwriting, primal poetic direction and judicious editing.

The result: A gripping gang-life tableau on par with Boyz n the Hood and City of God and a cultural glimpse as enveloping and ecumenical as Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

Casper (Edgar Flores) is a “marero,” a gang member in Chiapas, Mexico, forced to flee after running afoul of leader Lil Mago (Tenoch Huerta). Sayra (Paulina Gaitán) is an Honduran teen reunited with her estranged, deported father, Horacio (Gerardo Taracena), as he races to again illegally cross the U.S. border.

Once Casper and Sayra’s paths cross, Fukunaga shows dedicated discipline toward the question of all that you gamble when you place your fate in the devil’s hands.

Fukunaga conveys the humidity making everyone go haywire in the steamy, hellish Chiapas, and freight-yard grounds become a shantytown of immigrants risking lives for passage. Several connections are ground under the wheels of that chugging train.

Even for those that aren’t, a universal mercilessness of impossible choices hangs over them— from Horacio weighing a life lost in America over that left behind in Honduras to El Smiley (Kristyan Ferrer), a protégé of Casper’s with an arc as inscrutably logical as it is wrenchingly sad.

Spellbinding and nailbiting at the same time, Sin Nombre’s climax chillingly evoked the fable of the rabbit crossing the river on a crocodile’s back. Even amid such fleeting hope, its bone-deep fragility proved impossible to shake.