There is also the magnetism of the leads: Edgar Flores as Willy, a gang member that has to go on the run, and Paulina Gaitan as Sayra, the beautiful immigrant who he befriends gradually and strongly. Their friendship is hard, though, since he's under the gun. He's worried about her safety. She just wants to be with him, but her dad and her uncle want her just to get to America, and going with this loner might not be the best ticket. Willy also has a wound: his girlfriend was murdered and apparently almost raped by his gang leader. When he eventually slays this man, his young friend, Smiley (Kristian Ferrer) is sent to put a bullet clean through. These elements provide for unnecessary suspense.
Isn't the journey itself picturesque enough to make a film about? Fukunaga doesn't think so, though. He tries to hammer too hard. He doesn't eventually go for art, he goes for your adrenal glands. He doesn't reach them, though. His ending is manufactured. When the film crosses the border, it doesn't really quite enrapture you as before. Here the destination is nowhere near as interesting as the trip. B+