The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Go For Sisters

One of the great things about John Sayles' films is that they always catch you off guard. The director has been doing terrific work for decades, but his movies aren't high concept, and he uses character actors as much, if not more, than big stars. For this reason, you never fully know what to expect when you watch one. Sayles requires his audience to sit back and allow everything to unfold – at his pace, in the manner of his choosing. There's no formula or need to hit the same pre-programmed story beats that most movies rely on. His newest effort, Go For Sisters, continues this approach. Only partway into the film do you find out what it's really about, and by that point, you're already hooked.

LisaGay Hamilton (The Practice) plays Bernice, a parole officer who is not happy to learn that the newest person on her caseload is old friend Fontayne (Treme's Yolonda Ross). The two were inseparable when they were younger – they could “go for sisters,” people told them – but Fontayne's poor life choices created a rift between them. Then the unthinkable happens: Bernice's troubled son Rodney goes missing along the Mexican border, and one of the people he was running around with is brutally murdered. Needing a guide through his world, she turns to Fontayne for help. She leads him to a disgraced former-LAPD detective named Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos), who agrees, for a price, to help navigate the criminal underworld of Tijuana, where Rodney's trail leads.

Go For Sisters is about two things. On the surface, it's about a woman trying to find her missing son. The film is largely successful on this count. Bernice, aided by Fontayne and Freddy, follows one piece of evidence to the next, each one taking her to a deeper level of crime and degradation. The trio occasionally face danger, as they sometimes have to fabricate stories about who they are and what they're doing so as not to arouse suspicion. There are perhaps a few too many stops along the way, as the track a person down/get a small bit of info/move on to the next pattern gets slightly repetitive, but by and large, the search for Rodney is engrossing. On a deeper level, Go For Sisters is about what it really means to be sisters (or brothers) with someone. Despite their fractured relationship, Bernice knows she can still count on Fontayne when the chips are down; despite having essentially been rejected by her friend, Fontayne is right there when Bernice needs help. Quietly and with simple, yet acute observation, the movie depicts their bond reforming.

That the story becomes so engrossing is due, in big part, to the performances. Sayles has always had a knack for strong casting and for getting top-notch work from his actors. Hamilton and Ross perfectly convey all the things their characters go through, from the tenuous reunion to an eventual reassessment of their friendship. At all points, we understand why the worried Bernice turns to Fontayne, and why Fontayne agrees to help her out. Their depiction of the unspoken bond is outstanding. Edward James Olmos, meanwhile, does some of the best work of his career as the jaded, yet still compassionate, Freddy. The actor gives the character a weary demeanor, as though Freddy doesn't like going back into a world he thought he'd left behind, but knows the women need his guidance to come out of Tijuana alive. An extended sequence in which he coaches them in following a car that's been rigged with a tracking device is riveting.

Go For Sisters winds its way to a meaningful conclusion that also throws in some commentary about a prominent social issue. It's just one more way the film takes you by surprise. The subject matter sounds like it would be more appropriate for an action director, but John Sayles does something really impressive by making the story less about where the adventure takes Bernice and Fontayne physically than where it takes them emotionally.

( out of four)

Go For Sisters is unrated, but contains some language and violence. The running time is 2 hours and 3 minutes.

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