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Go For Sisters

Posted by martinteller on December 24, 2013

Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is a parole officer in Los Angeles.  She gets a new “client”: her estranged high school friend Fontayne (Yolonda Ross).  Bernice gives Fontayne a small break, and Fontayne swears to repay the favor if she can.  When Bernice’s son Rodney is implicated in a murder and goes missing, she calls in the favor, using Fontayne’s underworld connections to find answers.  As Bernice and Fontayne investigate Rodney’s disappearance, they get deeper and deeper into an illegal immigrant smuggling racket involving a Chinese gang.  They enlist the assistance of former detective Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos) and go south of the border.

I’ve only seen a few John Sayles movies, but they’ve all been good (with the obvious Matewan standing out as the best).  This is easily the worst of them.  It starts out rather promising.  The relationship between Bernice and Fontayne is layered with dramatic possibilities.  There’s an interest in seeing how their lives took different paths, and how Bernice is exploiting Fontayne and setting both of them up for dire consequences.  Hamilton and Ross are both seemingly talented actresses with compelling screen presence.  There is a lot of potential for the exploration of these characters and their relationship.  And I also detected a film noir influence… maybe that’s just me looking for noir wherever I can, but these are people crossing moral boundaries, making decisions outside their established value guidelines, and descending into a criminal underworld.  Sinister things were afoot.

But the film gradually mutates into a very rote and unsatisfying mystery/thriller movie with buddy cop elements.  After Olmos is introduced, that promise of deeper things has dissipated, leaving a sometimes fun (there are a few good laughs to be had) but fluffy and meaningless experience.  The film gets loaded down with conventional filler, shoehorning the occasional overwritten dialogue between Bernice and Fontayne in between unoriginal plot points.  Characters perform actions or witness things that should be transformative, but no one changes at all.  They feel stuck in the movie’s insistence on getting through its uninspired storyline.

What makes this especially disappointing is that we know Sayles is a good storyteller.  One doesn’t necessarily turn to him for complex characterization or dazzling technique, but he can spin a good yarn.  What happened here?  It feels like a contract job.  I applaud the three leads, who gamely try to make the best of it, and I applaud the choice to make a movie centered around two African-American women (this film passes the Bechdel test with flying colors)… unfortunately, still quite a rarity in cinema, Hollywood or otherwise.  But the more I reflect on this picture, the less I like it.  All the intriguing character work of the first act is wasted.  The film comes off as thoughtless, the beginning of a fine idea that no one bothered to flesh out properly.  Rating: Poor (55)


3 Responses to “Go For Sisters”

  1. Dan Heaton said

    Interesting. I enjoyed Go for Sisters a lot more than you did. I recognize that it isn’t one of Sayles’ best films, but I’d put it in the upper half. I’m a big fan of Sayles and have seen all of his films, so that might play a role in my thoughts. It’s definitely not going to win new fans, but the performances in Go For Sisters were very strong. Still, I can see that the plot has some shortcomings. I’m glad you got to see it regardless. I’ve seen very few reviews from bloggers on it so far.

    • I’ve already read your review, Dan! Glad you managed to enjoy it more than I did. When I walked out of the film, I was thinking my score would be somewhere in the low 70’s, but the more our movie club discussed it, the more flawed it seemed to be.

      • Dan Heaton said

        It’s cool that you were able to see it with a movie club. I’ll admit that my excitement at seeing another Sayles film (there haven’t been too many lately) probably causes me to forgive a few faults. He had a really hard time financing it since there are few commercial prospects.

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