×

SXSW Review: ‘Go for Sisters’

According to writer-director John Sayles, had he given “Go for Sisters” a Spanish title, it would have been “La Chinesca,” the nickname for Mexicali’s Chinatown neighborhood. Sure enough, if it weren’t for the sheer intensity of the south-of-the-border sun, “Go for Sisters” would be a film noir, Jake, tracking a ball-buster parole officer who will stop at nothing to retrieve her grown son from the criminals he’s gotten himself mixed up with. True to his nature, Sayles places most of his attention on culture and character, rather than the stock-sounding plot, crafting a smart, if strangely forgettable, half-million-dollar arthouse alternative to megaplex procedurals.

Watching Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) deny parole violators’ heartfelt pleas, one can only imagine what kind of mother she must have been. Since coming back to L.A. from the service, her son Rodney (McKinley Belcher III) hasn’t made an effort to stay in contact, and Bernice doesn’t have much better luck holding on to friends or lovers, as she’s reminded when a half-forgotten high-school acquaintance shows up in her office.

In Bernice’s eyes, everyone is guilty of something, but in an uncommon act of compassion, she decides to cut Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) a break. Back in school, they were inseparable (the title itself is slang for two friends who look similar enough to pass for sisters), but all that changed when Fontayne stole Bernice’s boyfriend, possibly seeding the trust issues Bernice still has.

Craving redemption for not only her recent drug problems but also that long-ago slight, Fontayne promises to help her old friend should she ever need a favor. Sure enough, after her son disappears, Bernice comes calling. The cops think Rodney is responsible for murdering one of his friends, but Bernice believes otherwise, enlisting Fontayne and an ex-LAPD detective named Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos) to help her track him down. (Why she ends up at the crime scene is a rare loose end in a script that slavishly connects its dots.)

Though nearly blind, Suarez has a bloodhound’s gift for picking up a trail, and he leads the two women across the border. Though this is territory rendered ominous by “Touch of Evil” and countless other films, Sayles flips the equation, contrasting the eruption of life and color he finds in Tijuana and Mexicali with a cold, bloodless view of Los Angeles.

Sayles uses a staggering number of locations for a film shot in 19 days on a tight budget, only to undermine much of that energy in the editing, delivering an overlong cut that’s dense on plot (arguably the least interesting thing about the film) and dull whenever it chooses to indulge quiet moments among characters. Like too many of Sayles’ films, “Go for Sisters” seems bound to slip through the cracks, not quite memorable enough to make a lasting impression.

Stylistically, the pic shares the unfussy, first-take/only-take feel of a Clint Eastwood picture, suggesting genuine trust in its talented cast (which includes day-player roles for Hector Elizondo, Isaiah Washington and Harold Perrineau). From Sayles’ own filmography, the most similar film might be “Lone Star,” though the helmer’s political message is subtler this time.

Working with an almost exclusively black and Latino cast, he toys with stereotypes, revealing how lopsided drug enforcement practices create a culture of crime in minority communities — a factor clearest in the way he lets the mystery behind Rodney’s disappearance brew almost entirely in auds’ imaginations.

Go for Sisters

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 11, 2013. Running time: 123 MIN.

An Anarchists’ Convention presentation in association with Olmos Prods., Go for Films. Produced by Edward James Olmos, Alejandro Springall, Peter Bobrow.

Directed, written, edited by John Sayles. Camera (color), Kat Westergaard; music, Mason Daring; production designer, Mara A. Spear; art director, Kevin Long; set decorator, Linda Natze Ruiz; costume designer, Dana Rebecca Woods; sound (Dolby Digital), Caleb A. Mose; supervising sound editor, Glenfield Payne; re-recording mixers, Robert Fernandez, Payne; assistant director, Liz Regan; casting, Cindy Tolan.

With: Edward James Olmos, LisaGay Hamilton, Yolonda Ross, Hector Elizondo, Harold Perrineau, Isaiah Washington, Vanessa Martinez, Jesse Borrego, Elizabeth Sung, McKinley Belcher III.

(English, Spanish dialogue)

Popular on Variety

SXSW Review: 'Go for Sisters'

More Film

  • Our Mothers Review

    Oscars: Belgium Sends Cannes Prizewinner 'Our Mothers' to International Feature Film Race

    Belgian-Guatemalan director Cesar Diaz’s feature debut, “Our Mothers,” will represent Belgium in the International Feature Film category at the Oscars. Represented in international markets by Pyramide, “Our Mothers” world premiered at Cannes’ Critics Week and won the Golden Camera for best first film. “Our Mothers” is set in today’s Guatemala, a country riveted by the [...]

  • La vaca "The Cow"

    Alfredo Castro, Mia Maestro, Leonor Varela Cast in Francisca Alegria’s Debut (EXCLUSIVE)

    SANTIAGO, Chile  —  The much anticipated feature debut of Chilean Francisca Alegria, renowned for her magical short “And the Whole Sky Fit in the Dead Cow’s Eye,” has firmed up its cast and shooting dates. Argentine thesp Mia Maestro (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”), Chile’s Leonor Varela (“Dallas,” “Blade 2”), Alfredo Castro (“From Afar,” “Museum”) [...]

  • 210819 Distribusjonsseminar DNF

    Haugesund: Nordic Distribution Panel Analyzes Recent Success Story 'Queen of Hearts'

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  On Wednesday morning, shortly before this year’s New Nordic Films Works in Progress screening was due to begin, a handful of industry veterans sat for a panel that picked up right where last year’s WIP program left off. Presented in collaboration with Europa Distribution, the panel – called “The Value Chain: A [...]

  • L-R Dena Kaplan, Ronny Chieng, Josh

    Rafe Spall Leads Cast of Oscar Nominated Josh Lawson's 'Long Story Short'

    Rafe Spall, whose credits include “The Big Short” and “Shaun of the Dead,” leads the cast of romantic comedy “Long Story Short.” Studiocanal will handle worldwide sales on the film, which starts to shoot on Monday in Sydney, Australia. The movie is written and directed by Josh Lawson, who was Oscar nominated last year for [...]

  • Metro 2033

    Cult Sci-Fi Novel 'Metro 2033' to Be Adapted as Movie (EXCLUSIVE)

    Russia’s TNT-Premier Studios Company, TV-3 Channel and Central Partnership Film Company – all part of Gazprom Media – have come together to produce a movie based on Dmitry Glukhovsky’s sci-fi novel “Metro 2033,” which has also been adapted as a video game. Filming is due to start next year. The Russian premiere of the movie [...]

  • Beforeigners

    'Beforeigners'' Anne Bjornstad on HBO's First Norwegian Original Series

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  HBO Europe’s first Norwegian original series, which debuted Aug. 21 exclusively across HBO’s territories, has garnered rave reviews in the Norwegian press. It is also a perfect fit for HBO’s brand and goal to create bold, smart and author-driven shows. Produced by Endemol Shine’s Norwegian prodco Rubicon TV, “Beforeigners” is helmed by [...]

  • Refugees from the besieged Muslim enclave

    Sarajevo’s True Stories Market: Documenting the Atrocities of War

    Reconciliation and dealing with the tragedies of the Yugoslav Wars has been a major focus of the Sarajevo Film Festival and its CineLink Industry Days event in recent years. The True Stories Market, launched in 2016, aims to connect filmmakers with organizations that are researching and documenting the Yugoslav Wars that spanned 1991 to 2001 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content