Go For Sisters

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 11/24/13 13:46:15

"A focused, straightforward story that John Sayles and his cast tell well."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

John Sayles is perhaps the most notable independent filmmaker who falls through the cracks despite being quite accessible. Why is that? After all, he's got "Lone Star" and "Eight Men Out" to his name! There are a number of reasons, understandable if not great: He seldom returns to the same themes, genres, and regular cast members. He tackles subjects that interest him which are not only far out of the mainstream, but which he can't own the way someone of the class/nationality/ethnicity of his characters might. And he writes stories that don't feel tight but also don't feel like character showcases. His latest, "Go for Sisters", has a bit of all of that going on. That's why people might miss it and also why they really shouldn't.

The title refers to how, back in high school, Bernice and Fontayne were so close that everyone assumed they were family. Twenty-five or so years later, they're reunited when ex-convict Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) is assigned Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) as her new parole agent. Bernice is aware of the conflict of interest, but before she can get Fontayne a new supervisor, her son Rodney has disappeared and become a murder suspect, so she needs information from the sort of people that she should really be making sure Fontayne avoids. They eventually hire former detective Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos), who doesn't look like much but used to be known as "The Terminator", to help them navigate the US/Mexico border.

From the way Sayles presents the detective story, one might be predisposed to think that this is one of those movies where the plot is a necessary evil there to give the cast a reason to talk and, in so doing, act; it doesn't often lead to tricky action or tricky twists. And while the characters' quest to find Rodney certainly does serve as a way to keep the cast interacting with each other, their purpose in following this trail is never far away. There are detours and moments where the ties between Bernice and Fontayne come to the fore, but Sayles actually does a great job of showing how this sort of investigation moves forward by asking the right people the right questions even as the tension and tedium can be tremendously frustrating.

For all that the story is pulling the audience forward, it's also a great way to watch LisaGay Hamilton bring Bernice to life. She's introduced as being quietly but implacably by the book, but even in those early scenes before Fontayne shows up, there's hints that she might not be completely rigid. The rest of the movie is her bending every rule until it breaks, although the initially controlled but mounting desperation Hamilton displays keeps Bernice from ever feeling like a hypocrite. Hamilton does an outright fantastic job of presenting Bernice as a realist who is somehow not close to hardened without ever making her feel like a contradiction.

Yolonda Ross is doing a fine job as well; the steel in Fontayne is more visible from the start, but she also has her own doubts and insecurities. What's great, though, is the way she makes it clear what having her best friend back means to Fontayne, even if it's just for this one thing; it's not just happiness, or attraction, but having something other than getting to the next day that matters to her. Meanwhile, Edward James Olmos is often doing his own thing - Sayles is smart enough to not try and put someone between Bernice and Fontayne - but it's a good, well-rounded, lived-in thing he's doing. He picks up a guitar to tell a story about starting a rock and roll band as a teenager and sells it, even though there had not been a whole lot of lead up. And whether Freddy's macular degeneration or ability to follow a thread is at the forefront, Olmos presents it with familiarity but not as something casual.

There are plenty of other actors doing a good job even if they are often just there for a few scenes before Bernice, Fontayne, and Freddy move on to the next step. Sayles does well in keeping the ground shifting underneath the audience's (and Bernice's) feet but always giving a sense of the environment, although there are inevitably some bits that don't quite seem as strong as the others. For every piece of the film that seems to dawdle a bit, happily, there is something like the protagonists using an old, analog tracking device that shows just how tense a skilled filmmaker can make what should be a very static chase if he's established the stakes right.

Sayles is that sort of skilled filmmaker, even if the stories he's come up with haven't always been ones that reach out and grab an audience (whether in the theater or at the box office beforehand). This one deserves some attention; the scale of the story may be small, but it brings out the best for many of the folks involved.

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