Hamilton and Ross' incredible on screen partnership makes Go For Sisters a solid success for indie maverick John Sayles.
Go For Sisters
A consistently intriguing figure in the independent film community, John Sayles is a sometimes brilliant, usually “meh”, filmmaker whose recent work leans more toward the “meh” side of the fence. With that being said, there’s no one quite like him–films like 1996’s probing political character study, Lone Star, approach greatness, but stand in stark contrast to his writing work on iffy genre films like Pihranna and The Howling. Go For Sisters, Sayles’ rock-solid (if clichéd) tale of a woman in search of her son in a seedy Mexican underworld rife with drug deals, corrupt federales, human smuggling, and gun violence, gives his legacy a bit of a boost. Sayles’ spontaneous dialog and game actors are the real heroes here, saving the schematic narrative from dipping into mediocrity.
LisaGay Hamilton plays Bernice Stokes, a principled parole officer in Southern California who employs an old friend named Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) to help her track down her son, Randy, who’s gone missing in Mexico, tangled up with the worst kind of criminals. Fontayne, a recovering drug addict working hard to stick to the straight and narrow, is at first reluctant to follow Bernice into the world of crime she must enter to find her son, but when she realizes her once close friend (people always said they could “go for sisters”) just isn’t built tough enough for the task at hand, she obliges. Hamilton and Ross’ chemistry is remarkable throughout the film, though the relationship produces most of its best moments in the first half hour, in which the duo’s interplay is the prime focus.
In this first section, Sayles’ dialog is crackling and naturalistic, and he pokes and prods racial and economic issues like he does when he’s in top form. Then, the film devolves into a paint-by-numbers detective story that feels like a lifeless, hackneyed riff on Taken. It’s at this point that Edward James Olmos, playing an ex-cop named Suarez, joins the ladies as they travel South across the border. The stench of bad, CBS cop show begins to stink up the joint, and we see cliché after cliché begin to pile up (shady character interrogations, stealthily placing trackers on the bottoms of cars, late-night alleyway shootouts…all that stuff).
But, even amidst the trite proceedings of this painfully lengthy section of the film, the cast (including Olmos) continue to make Sayles’ dialog sing, making even the most banal scenarios at least sound interesting. At one point, the ladies interrogate a girl who’s apparently Randy’s lady friend outside a club late at night. Bernice asks the distraught girl (she’s just learned of his disappearance) earnestly, “Randy make you any promises?”, to which she replies, tearfully, “You have a good son. He’s a very good son.” The moment is so understated and sublime that it makes you forget how stale the setup is.
The way Sayles films the shadowy Mexican streets Bernice and Fontayne weave through on their intrepid rescue mission is interesting at times (he doesn’t shy away from thick, shadowy darkness), but it never evokes enough tension or emotion to elevate any given moment. Though the missing-person tale he weaves is about as uninteresting as it gets for this type of movie, Sayles and his actors hit the sweet spot when it comes to creating deep, compelling characters. It’s Hamilton and Ross’ incredible on-screen partnership that makes Go For Sisters a solid success for the indie maverick.