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I saw this film at the Ghent (Belgium) film festival 2013, where it was
part of the section American Independent. The persons in this film are
certainly not the cross section of society, but each of them has
recognizable features somewhere hidden inside. Main characters are the
tough "no bullshit" parole officer Bernice on one hand, and her
old-times schoolfriend who tries to stay clean Fontayne on the other
hand, They meet each other again after 20 years on different sides of
the law. These two roles are set out perfectly in the opening scenes of
the film, and this is precisely what characterizes the rest of the
film. The people we meet after Bernice and Fontayne team up to look for
Bernice's son, are portrayed very well within one or two scenes when
they enter the proceedings. It gives us ample time to identify
ourselves with them, though neither looks like someone we want to be in
real life. All have their problems plus a shady past, which is what
makes them to what they are now, at the same time precisely what makes
them fit in the story as it unfolds before our eyes.
A third main character is former policeman "The Terminator" Freddy, disgraced and fired without pension, but pulling his weight in this quest, in spite of his severely diminished eye sight. Each of the three "mates" brings their own unique features and qualities, and their special knowledge how things work on either side of the law. The odd trio undertakes a quest which seems a lost cause from the outset. Nevertheless, they definitely make progress throughout the whole film, be it one step at a time, be it improbable how they succeed in dangerous situations. But still, we see how the story develops from very close by. We also see how it brings our main characters in situations they could not have survived without tons of luck, lack of fear and sheer determination. These situations combined with the persons they have to deal with, are precisely what makes this into a colorful and varied movie, in which we even see a few parts of Mexico.
All in all, I enjoyed this film throughout its 123 minutes running time. The three main characters are portrayed very well, each with their own special features and abilities. And the people they meet, albeit in relatively short encounters, look like taken from real life, allowing us peeping into their ways-of-life as a bonus. It offers no solutions for real-life problems, it is mere entertainment, no more no less. Humor works effectively as icing on the cake. I could find no information about the budget, but it does not show either way.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER ALERT The film opens with Bernice encountering a parolee with a
plausible story to explain why she was consorting with criminals.
Bernice doesn't buy the story, and sends her to a hearing, commenting
"I listen to people sugarcoat their bullshit all day." Next, Bernice's
former high school friend - Fontayne - shows up. Bernice tells her she
has to assign her to another agent, but listens to Fontayne's story.
While she suspects Fontayne's story may be BS, she decides to give her
a break. Fontayne offers to help her out if she needs anything in the
future, but Bernice looks at her dismissively.
Later, the scenes cut to each woman at her home. Their modest apartments are shot in warm sepia and amber tones, but a picture is painted of two lonely women.
Bernice learns that Rodney is suspected of being involved in human trafficking from Mexico. Though her son has been alienated from her since he returned from the Middle East, Bernice simply wants to find him and keep him safe; one of his partners in crime, Fuzzy, has just been found murdered. Bernice has to turn to Fontayne to begin investigating the world of criminals from the inside.
Entwined within the story is Sayles' critical eye on injustice and poverty. This spirit infuses most of Sayles' films and his writings. An indie director, Sayles is best known for, I suspect, "The Brother from Another Planet" (1984) "Matewan" (1987)(one of my favorites), "Passion Fish" (1992, another female buddy film of sorts), and "Lone Star" (1996). He is also a prolific writer, my two favorites being "Union Dues" and "A Moment in the Sun."
Fontayne agrees to help find Rodney. These women begin to switch roles, if you will. Bernice bends the law in order to find her kidnapped son. Meanwhile, Fontayne is appalled that Bernice is moving her back into the world of drug dealer and thugs. She is struggling to do the right thing. Bernice tries to assure her: "I will get you out of this clean. I promise."
Freddy, meanwhile, weathered and burdened with macular degeneration, wants to feel important. Retirement has not served him well, though he seems to have a loving wife who is worried about his journey. He is Bernice's and Fontayne's entry to Tijuana, where the trio encounters an odd assortment of thugs, murderers, traffickers, and other dangers, all while searching for Rodney.
This rich character study takes place in settings that brim with authenticity. The NA meeting rings true as people share their stories, as does the journey to Tijuana, capturing the colors, sounds, and rhythm of this border town. The scenes in the desert highlight the barren but beautiful nature of that locale.
A glance at those who pay to cross the border under risky and even deadly conditions is done with empathy, not judgment. Small roles by Harold Perrineau as Wiley, Isaiah Washington as Vernell, and Hector Elizondo as Jorge, add to the richness of the characters in this film.
In the end, as Bernice, Fontayne, and Freddy return to their lives in Southern California, there is a bit of hope. Bernice remarks to Fontayne, "I don't have that many friends," and they make plans for the evening.
Currently, "Go For Sisters" has a surprisingly low overall rating of
6.1 on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). While this sounds
respectable, a 6.1 would generally indicate that the film is average at
best*--and this film is far from average in every way. To me, it's a
wonderful example of a movie that features really, really exceptional
acting coming from some less than famous faces--faces that deserve to
be getting more attention.
"Go For Sisters" is a film written and directed by John Sayles--a famous name in Hollywood. It's unusual because one of its producers is Leonard James Olmos (of "Miami Vice" fame)--who also is one of the stars of the film. He did a wonderful job in the film, however, I would hate for him to get all the glory. After all, LisaGay Hamilton and Yolanda Ross (hardly household names) were wonderful as the two female leads and I would LOVE to see more of them in the future. Sure, they may not look and sound like Hollywood's idea of stars, but they really did great jobs--particularly Hamilton. I love seeing 'real women' in films--women who are not the usual cookie cutter starlets but who seem like REAL people! And Hamilton and Ross sure seemed real.
The film begins in a parole office. Bernice (Hamilton) is a parole officer who seems to know her stuff and is all business with her clients. However, her new assignment is a tough one--Fontayne (Ross) turns out to be someone Bernice grew up with and knew very well long ago. Now, years later, they are on the opposite sides of the fence. And, because it would not be appropriate to have an old acquaintance as a client, Bernice plans on transferring Fontayne to another officer. However, something comes up and Bernice decides, for once, to go against her better judgment. This is because her estranged son has just disappeared and she needs answers--especially since he might be dead or wanted for murder! She MUST know where he might be and what happened to him. And so she asks Fontayne for some help. After all, Fontayne's been around and might know some people who might know some people... Well, after a while, the two spend more time together and naturally become closer and start to talk about old times. And, it turns out that they were more than just casual acquaintances and now Fontayne seems like she's willing to help not just because Bernice is a parole officer but because perhaps she cares and is trying to put her life as a junkie behind her...perhaps.
At this point, Bernice is definitely treading into dangerous territory working with a friend/parolee to locate her son. However, the trail gets even murkier more convoluted when the women soon find themselves in contact with an ex-cop (Olmos). This is a guy who was thrown off the force and they don't know whether or not they can trust him--but they don't seem to have much choice if they want to find the missing man. And, to make things worse, the trail soon heads out of the country--to the infamous city of Tijuana, Mexico--a place where law and order have all but vanished. What will happen next? And, most importantly, will Bernice and Yolanda come out of all this alive? And, just how far is Bernice willing to go to locate her son?
I noticed that a few folks felt that the script was a bit far-fetched when they reviewed the film on IMDb. Perhaps it is a bit, but I found myself willing to believe it for several good reasons. As a retired social worker and psychotherapist (as well as school teacher), I used to work very closely with parole and probation officers. They are VERY human--some very professional, some very unprofessional and some a bit crazy! So, an officer bending rules is something I could easily believe. Also, as a parent, I could see a scared mother willing to risk everything to find her only son. But, most importantly, I could believe it because Bernice was such a believable character. Sayles did a nice job of writing the character and directing Hamilton--but Hamilton herself was just terrific in this leading role. While she has quite a few credits to her name, with acting like this, she deserves much more attention and opportunities. It also didn't hurt having Ross and Olmos supporting her--as the trio seemed very believable and the three really knew their craft.
The bottom line is that too few film emphasize what I like in films-- great acting and well-written and believable characters. While this film doesn't have a fancy special effects or the glitz of many Hollywood films, it is well made and quite tense. It's a film I strongly recommend--even if the story might sound a bit hard to believe. I sure believed it and am thrilled that the film just came out this week with Netflix. Grab a copy.
*IMDB scores are weighted a bit high--so I've noticed that a 6.1 is equal to about a 5.0 on many other scales.
'Go for Sisters' was screened at the Glasgow film Festival. It is one
of a slew of films from 2013 with the major plot-line of dirty dealings
down ol' Mexico way. Older films, with a similar theme, would suggest
that this film is perhaps part of some sort of Mexico-crime sub-genre,
and a worthy part too.
Film opens in LA, in a probation office. The scene is shot almost documentary style but camera wobble and swaying does spoil these early scenes, though thankfully improves thereafter.
There are three women in this opening scene. One white woman is being interviewed for breaking the conditions of her probation. A second white woman takes no active part in the interview and we clearly sense that she is some sort of probationary probation officer who is learning the ropes.
The interview is being conducted by Bernice, an experienced African-American probation officer, played by LisaGay Hamilton. Bernice is strict with the parole-violator and her experience enables her to closely question the parolee. We get the impression that she has heard and seen it all before.
Bernice then conducts a second interview with an African-American woman called Fontayne, played by Yolonda Ross. Again she is strict but listens to the explanations of the parolee. She informs the woman that because of a prior relationship that a another probation-officer will be allocated. These early scenes are shot very much in a documentary style, and we see in minute detail the system of processing.
In these early scenes, and other later ones, we see Bernice trying to contact her son unsuccessfully. He has been caught up in some criminal activity and has disappeared. Determined to find him, Bernice contacts Fontayne to ask her to help in the search. Their relationship is an old one, and so Fontayne agrees to help. This requires delving into the criminal-world and so probation-officer Bernice keeps parolee Fontayne as her client and to keep things legitimate.
Thus we are in the land of '48hrs' (1982), where cop Nick Nolte has criminal Eddie Murphy out of prison on that famous 48 hour pass, and the pair get into various scrapes, as they battle against the clock, in that famous landmark buddy film. The girls in 'GfS', whilst not having that same specific 48 hour time-period are still very much up against the clock throughout this film. Like the all-girl 'The Heat' from last year, there is some of the same buddy-comedy. The '48hrs' classic 'red-neck' scene, can now probably never be replicated in a modern film in all of it's glory. However this reviewer did enjoy an early comic scene in 'GfS', that perhaps gave a slight nod to that sort of 'good cop, non-cop' type of situation.
Early confrontations are not all comic. Life in a drug-infested ghetto is clearly shown in more documentary-style scenes. However our girls quickly realize that their search requires them to head down to the Mexican border, and to cross it too. Thus we now embark, like some sort of road-movie, on a Mexicrime journey, as in the seminal classic 'Touch of Evil' (1958), the later 'No Country for Old Men' (2007), and that slew of 2013 films.
'ToE' and NCfOM' both had a drug theme, as do all the 2013 films. '2 Guns', which is a slapstick action-comedy film, had Edward James Olmos playing a drug-cartel leader. In 'GfS', which is a serious film, Mr Olmos plays an ex-cop, who will help our girl duo across the border. In the comedy 'We're the Millers' a cover-story is required to get across the border. In 'GfS' a cover story is also required, and Mr Olmos, who also produces this film, sets this up with a bit of a slight nod to, for him, a real-life autobiographical flourish. A nice touch!
'2G' and 'WtM' were comedies. 'GfS' is not. It is instead a serious crime film with some comedy. 'The Counsellor' was a very grim drug-dealing story, not for the faint-hearted. 'GfS' whilst serious, is not as grim as that.
'GfS' is mainly in English, but two long scenes of dialogue are in Spanish, but sadly with no English sub-titles for non-Spanish-speaking viewers. This is a shame as both seemed authentic and interesting. Neither perhaps was of crucial importance, but sadly we, who are not Spanish-speaking, do not know that as a certainty. Sub-titles would have added authenticity and interest to those conversations.
It is not clear why the son has disappeared, but finding him seems to be like looking for a needle in a haystack. This requires detective work; of a deductive type as well as undercover work. It also means confrontations; some serious, and some comic.
There is good acting throughout the film; Miss Hamilton, the star, portrays a buttoned-up probation-officer trying to keep her emotions under control. Mr Olmos is the grizzled ex-cop who reminded me of last year's film noir 'Cold Comes the Night'. The talented Miss Ross, the parolee, gives a very believable and versatile performance. Good work! These three leads convince in their roles and impress with their acting. It was also nice too, to see brief appearances by the familiar faces of Don Harvey and Hector Elizondo, both of whom added authenticity to the film in their roles.
If you like '48hrs'-style action-comedy buddy-movies, or Mexicrime-style genre movies, you will find this film a worthy companion. Certified as 15+, it is a tense crime film, with some comedy. 7/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . than writer\editor\director John Sayles's masterworks, THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH and LONE STAR. The former was an expose of quaint child rearing practices in Ireland, while the latter blew the whistle on the rampant in-breeding my state is known for. Though I only have viewed eight movies directed by Mr. Sayles, I doubt that every fan of his will rank GO FOR SISTERS among their Top Ten from the director of EIGHT MEN OUT. While some of Mr. Sayles movies have been narrowly focused on such topics as baseball, coal mining, or being stranded in the Alaskan wilderness, the spotlight is diffuse at best on the subject he is aiming at in GO FOR SISTERS. Is it latent lesbianism? The possibility of successful drug rehabilitation? Mother-Son bonds? Lack of jobs for ex-cons and ex-military? U.S. immigration policy? Is the viewer meant to decide which is worse, the Chinese mob or Mexican drug cartels? Is this an examination of American parole practices? An effort to promote bilingualism? One could argue it is all that and more. Decide for yourself.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Sayles has been around in the independent film business for many
years. During that time, he's garnered numerous accolades for his
original stories and down to earth characters. Here, in his new film,
'Go for Sisters', he has the story and the characters but just doesn't
know how to make it all work.
LisaGay Hamilton plays Bernice, a Los Angeles Parole Officer, who's assigned to Fontayne, a recovering drug addict, transferred from another officer who has just retired. The problem is that Bernice was a friend of Fontayne years ago in high school, until a rift over a boyfriend caused them to have a falling out.
When Bernice's estranged son, Rodney, is kidnapped in Mexico by human traffickers, Bernice desperately enlists Fontayne's help in trying to find Rodney. As a parole officer, she is prohibited from supervising Fontayne due to the conflict of interest but goes ahead anyway (at the beginning of the film she tells Fontayne she's planning to transfer her to a colleague, but comes up with this crazy, alternative plan to take the law into her own hands).
Even if one suspends one's disbelief that Bernice would risk her career (and possibly open up herself to criminal charges), the banter between the two is probably the best thing about the film. That's until the absurd plot kicks in. Bill Weber nails it when he writes in Slant Magazine: "after an initial tight focus on the characters' personal crises the plot wanders into a number of banal genre situations that neglect the movie's heart." And even Stephen Holden of the NY Times, finds that the parole officer and her charge have a "flimsy detective story draped over them", which "is underdeveloped and too sluggishly paced to take hold."
Bernice conscripts Freddy Suárez to help her, a former LAPD detective, who suffers from macular degeneration (despite this, he has no trouble helping Bernice track down Rodney). You might ask, after making their way down to Mexico, how the heroic trio ends up locating Bernice's errant son. Well, they're driving on a street and suddenly locate his truck, like any old needle in a haystack. Freddy attaches an old time tracking device, to the truck's under carriage and whenever they get close, it begins to beep. After losing the signal, miraculously the device begins beeping again while Bernice and company find themselves off the beaten track, in the middle of the desert.
Along the way the narrative is rife with other absurdities including a scene where Bernice shoots an off duty Mexican police officer in the foot (again, she is a Parole Officer but seems to never have any fear about losing her job). Meanwhile, Fontayne, during her time down in Mexico, has little to do but act as a cheerleader in the back seat of the car, as they all search for the missing Rodney. All's well that ends well when the trio locates the padlocked truck, free the smuggled Chinese stuffed into the back of the truck like sardines, along with Rodney, sans one ear, which earlier had been lopped off by the kidnappers as a part of their ransom demand.
Tomas Hachard of NPR couldn't have put it any better about 'Go for Sisters', when he writes: "Regardless of the tone it's searching for, the movie lacks a sense of urgency: What could have been a series of explosive chases after criminals in Mexico turns into a mostly staid if sometimes absurd trip through the borderland. And what could have been a rare, intimate portrait of two black female characters never pushes beyond a superficial profile."
'Go for Sisters' is not a complete disaster by any means and I would recommend one viewing as both the characters and dialogue are engaging. In the end, however, the film suffers from a lack of verisimilitude in the mechanics of its plot, rendering it a weak entry amongst this year's indie feature releases.
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