The Once-Great John Sayles Makes a Pretty Good Mystery in Go for Sisters

B Mystery/thriller

  • Written and directed by John Sayles

Back in the 1990s, independent filmmaker John Sayles turned out one great film after another. But he’s been turning out mostly disappointments for a long time now. His latest film, Go for Sisters, didn’t disappoint me, but that’s only because I’ve lowered my expectations about this once-great auteur.

This is Sayles at his most conventional. A pair of mismatched protagonists join forces to find a missing person, with the help of a colorful retired cop. Along the way, they’ll face evil criminals, fire a gun a couple of times, and bond. In all but the details, you’ve seen this film before.

The heroines grew up as best friends but have long ago went their separate ways. Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is a parole officer, and a tough one. Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) is a recovering drug addict and an ex-con. They’re both lonely.

Then Bernice’s grown son, who hasn’t been returning her calls, becomes a person of interest in a homicide investigation. To make matters worse, he’s disappeared, and there are reasons to believe that he has been hanging out with the wrong crowd. Bernice calls on Fontayne to help her find her son.

But neither of them have any experience with this sort of thing, so a third character is added to the group, a former LAPD detective named Freddy (Edward James Olmos, who also produced the film). He’s clever, funny, knows the underworld, and plays a mean electric guitar. He’s also going blind, a serious problem for this sort of work.

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Their investigation takes them south of the border, primarily into Tijuana. Latin American culture, and its relationship to the USA, has always fascinated Sayles. Consider Lone Star, Men with Guns, and Casa de los babys. This story allows him to dig into that culture’s seamier underbelly.

This is a American movie almost completely lacking in white people. imageBernice and Fontayne are both African American, as are many of the people they have contact with in their day-to-day lives (Fontayne is also gay). Freddy is Hispanic; his parents were both born in Mexico. The villains tend to be either Mexican or Chinese. I don’t recall a single white character important enough to turn up in more than one scene.

Aside from the three leads, we really don’t get to know anyone. Surprising for a Sayles picture, we never get a moment where a minor character reveals something interesting about themselves. Go for Sisters is heavy on plot, and really doesn’t seem interested in all but a few main characters.

I’ve seen all but a couple of his films, and while this isn’t Sayles’ worst (that would be Silver City), it’s certainly his most conventional. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hollywood genre flicks have their pleasures, and when made by competent filmmakers, are almost always entertaining.

And this one is competently made. The three lead characters are well drawn and interesting. You care about what happens to them and enjoy their company. The story is intriguing, if at times a bit opaque. The dialog is well written and acted, and the violence is kept to a minimum.

It’s still a John Sayles film after all.

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