Review: Go for Sisters
Go for Sisters is a John Sayles movie if ever there was one, and thank god, because we need more of these.
John Sayles is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter who spends half his time script doctoring Hollywood blockbusters like Apollo 13 and The Mummy (usually uncredited), and the other half directing independent, socially conscious, character driven critical darlings like Lone Star and Limbo. Those latter films might sound like homework, but Sayles is smart enough to structure many of them around a conventional set up so they’re easy to consume. Go for Sisters is a kidnapping story, a mystery, a buddy picture, a tale of a disgraced detective’s retribution, and yet despite those genre trappings it plays so naturally that you’d swear it could have been based on a true story.
LisaGay Hamilton plays Bernice, a parole officer whose son has gone missing and may be connected with a recent homicide. To find him, she enlists the aid of parolee Fontayne, played by Yolonda Ross, a recovering drug addict who decades ago was Bernice’s best friend in high school. As they begin kicking over stones, it becomes apparent that Bernice’s son is in way over his head, and so are they, so they hire a retired detective to help them unravel a dire mystery that leads them over the border and into the hands of dangerous human traffickers. That detective is Freddy Suarez, played by Edward James Olmos, and just to make things harder for everyone, he’s suffering from macular degeneration and is now nearly blind.
When viewed as a mystery, Go for Sisters is corker. Sayles carefully sculpts bulbous bumps in Bernice’s road to the truth, but layers in seemingly innocuous details about his characters’ pasts that help them navigate to their destination. A smartly written monologue about Freddy’s integration to American culture – at his dad’s request, he started a rock band called “Freddie and the Debonairs” – becomes the basis for two ass-saving measures down the road, helping them hide in plain sight as his latest act and, later, cover up the bullet holes on their car with promotional fliers. The cast of shady characters Bernice, Fontayne and Freddy encounter are also fully realized characters with unexpected points of view, making the most familiar of scenes, like pumping bartenders for information, feel like complete dramas in themselves instead of just a screenwriter’s checklist.
But it’s the richness of Sayles’ main characters that transforms Go for Sisters into a truly special motion picture. Bernice and Fontayne are unusual creations: a parole officer easing into criminality for exactly the right reasons, and an ex-con genuinely trying to get her life together, acting as the conscience for our supposed hero. Their gradual descent into the underworld allows them to reexamine their own lives and friendship while simultaneously exploring the unknown, grimy secret life of Bernice’s son. It’s a story of friendship as much as one about human trafficking, with Edward James Olmos guarding the periphery as a man who – in a different world – is the subject of his own franchise; a former “Terminator” with factory defects, proving himself once and for all in an environment that tries… and fails… to overwhelm him.
All this and an intelligent treatise on illegal immigration, second chances and how to write a damned good screenplay. Go for Sisters is an engrossing mystery, a powerful character study, and a wholly complete motion picture for having included every thoughtful aspect of its larger conversation. Hamilton, Ross and Olmos give some of the best performances of the year, Sayles provides one of the best screenplays of the same, and Go for Sisters belongs on your “must see” list. Go.