SXSW Review: Go for Sisters

Cast:
Edward James Olmos as Freddy Suárez
LisaGay Hamilton as Bernice
Yolonda Ross as Fontayne
Hector Elizondo as Jorge Menocal
Harold Perrineau as Wiley
Isaiah Washington as Vernell
Vanessa Martínez as Chula
Jesse Borrego as Juan Calles

Directed by John Sayles

Review:
Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is as straight-laced as anyone you might find, a no-nonsense by-the-book parole officer who has seen it all and heard it all. Unfortunately, her son may not have learned from her example and when it appears he has been kidnapped by a Mexican gang, Bernice has little choice but to turn to her old friend from the streets, Fontayne (Yolonda Ross), if she’s going to have any chance of finding her son.

The newest film from old school independent filmmaker John Sayles (“Lone Star”), “Go for Sisters” is a showcase for the best and worst of Sayles’ work, taking a nicely melodramatic plot and adding layers of character into it, using the perils and pitfalls of genre as platform to explore different cultures and the way they bounce off one another.

For those who want to see criminals get strong-armed and each act broken up by a nicely-staged action sequence, you’re watching the wrong film. Except for a very brief shoot out with some crooked cops in Tijuana, which has little to do with the main plot, “Go for Sisters” is about the relationship between the two near sisters and the way their lives went so radically different, particularly Fontayne, who was abandoned by Bernice when she got into drugs and went off the beaten path. While there are the plot points you expect from a crime film, most of its running time has more to do with the conversations Bernice and Fontayne are having while waiting for the big moments to come.

That changes somewhat once their investigation makes it clear the two are dealing with a bigger criminal element than they had first thought. To deal with it, they seek out former DEA agent Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos) at which point “Go for Sisters” finally gets the forward momentum it needs, not quite too late but almost.

Make no mistake about it, this is a good film made for only a small group of people. Shot quick and fast in Los Angeles and Mexico, “Go for Sisters” is all about telling its story as efficiently as possible, but the story it wants to tell may be a little too slow to fully appreciate. Sayles continues to focus on depth of character above and beyond anything else, which is surely a good thing, providing richness to his stories most of his contemporaries don’t bother with.

But a great narrative is about balance, showing character and theme while also keeping things moving and interesting. Ultimately, “Go for Sisters” can’t quite get there. As failings go, there are worse ones to have and there is still much to take away from modern film’s best novelist, even if what he wants and what we need don’t always match up.

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