MRR Review: "Go for Sisters"

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Upon her release from jail, Fontayne enlists the help of Bernice - her estranged old friend and current parole officer - and a disgraced cop to search for her son, who went missing on the Mexican border.
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MRR Review: "Go for Sisters"

Rating: UR (Unrated)
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: March 11, 2013
Directed by: John Sayles
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) and Fontayne (Yolanda Ross) were the best of friends while growing up in Los Angeles. They were so inseparable that many thought they were sisters, hence the title of the film, "Go for Sisters." After they graduated high school together, circumstances made them drift far apart from each other, as often happens with people once they are forced to grow up and leave the comfy confines of home. They haven't spoken since graduation and lead very different lives until one day fate brings them together unexpectedly, forcing them to reconcile or at least put the past behind them for a while.

Fontayne is an addict who has been in and out of jail for several years when she runs into Bernice again. A polar opposite of Fontayne, Bernice is a straight shooter who works as a parole officer. She has become almost completely numb to the constant sad tales and crocodile tears shed by the parolees she works with. She has very little empathy left when Fontayne's case is assigned to her. After looking through the case, Bernice has reason to put Fontayne back in jail. However, she gives in and decides to sympathize with Fontayne, who wants to clean up her life and put the criminal world and her demons behind her.

Bernice's son has gone missing at the US-Mexico border, and the police have not seen fit to do much about it. In a desperate attempt to find her son, she enrolls the help of a retired cop named Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos). Though Suarez is going blind and doesn't have the best reputation in the world, he knows all about the border and how to stay alive there. Bernice is aware that the longer her son is missing, the bigger the chance that he will come home in a body bag. She teams up with Fontayne and Freddy, and they cross the border. As they travel through Mexico, they meet a whole host of characters along the way. Some of these people are more helpful than others, but each of them seems to provide a unique piece to the complex puzzle of the boy's disappearance. Bernice gets increasingly desperate as the clues lead to nowhere, because she knows time is running out.

Over his very long career in Hollywood, Olmos has earned some big award nominations for a few of his roles, such as that of calculus teacher Jaime Escalante in "Stand and Deliver." Though he is not the main character in "Go for Sisters," he manages to steal the scene on more than one occasion. He quietly anchors the film, his aging face telling audiences all they need to know about his character's state of mind. He doesn't need to resort to big theatrics or scenery chewing to get attention. He hasn't looked this dignified since his excellent turn as Admiral Adama in "Battlestar Galactica," even though his character is quite put-upon throughout the film.

The desert is often used as a backdrop in films for the sole purpose of bringing out the lonelier, desolate aspects of a scene. In "Go for Sisters," writer and director John Sayles uses the desert not only to signify isolation; he uses it to highlight the fact that the characters still have each other. A desensitized case worker, an ex-con, and a disgraced cop are hardly a likely trio, but somehow they manage to work together as a team, and they relationship is quite believable. The partnership starts out almost awkwardly, but by the end of the film, everything seems to have come together in Sayles' trademark style.

Sayles has been writing novels since he was just nine years old, so his narrative style is quite different from that of most other filmmakers who write their own scripts. A book allows much more time for character and plot development than a film does, thus letting audiences root for the lead characters more deeply. Since Sayles helmed his first film in 1980, he has tried to create films that have the narrative pace of a novel but are not too long. He has had mixed success with this endeavor, but he has definitely gotten better at pacing and developing character relationships over time. Anyone who has seen his past films may have had the pleasure of seeing him grow as a filmmaker, and "Go for Sisters" is the culmination of all that growth. It is arguably his most accessible film to date, and that accessibility will likely bring Sayles an audience that he has never had before.

Rating: 3 out of 5