By Brian Tallerico | March 18, 2013

The great John Sayles returns with a drama that at least reminds one of the strength of ensemble that he’s displayed in other films, if not quite living up to the best of his career. Well-cast and perfectly performed, Go For Sisters has a remarkably strong ensemble even if it does fall a little flat in the storytelling department and features direction more typical for a TV series than a feature film.

Berenice (the fantastic LisaGay Hamilton, doing the best work of her career) is a parole officer confronted with two personal elements invading on her professional life simultaneously. The first comes when an old friend named Fontayne Gamble (the genuine Yolanda Ross) enters her office with a potential parole violation on her record. Berenice decides to look the other way and let Fontayne off with a warning. It could be because she realizes Fontayne really is trying to get clean, because she misses her old friend and wants to help her, or simply because she’s distracted by the fact that her son, who was recently involved with some nefarious characters, is missing.

When it becomes clearer that Berenice’s son Rodney was in with some very dangerous characters, Berenice enlists Fontayne to help her navigate the crime-filled waters south of the border to get him back, or at least find out what happened to him. The pair gets help from a retired cop named Suarez (Edward James Olmos) while the ensemble is filled out with a fascinating cast that includes Harold Perrineau, Isaiah Washington, Hector Elizondo, Mahershala Ali, and Jacob Vargas.

Like a lot of mysteries, Go For Sisters gets less interesting as it goes along. The early scenes between Hamilton and Ross are fascinating in their depth of character but the protagonists become cogs in the machine as the trio keeps finding clues and getting deeper into the seedy underbelly of the Mexican drug scene. The best scenes feature Berenice & Fontayne reminiscing about the people they used to be. I wanted more of that sense of how people can reunite behind a common goal even though their lives have gone in such different directions. I actually got annoyed when the plot intruded on the character development.

There’s also a notable sense that the atmosphere that defines the best of Sayles’ work – Lone Star, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, Matewan, Limbo – has been replaced by generic plotting. For one of the first times in his career, the writing aspect of this beloved writer/director is his film’s weakest aspect. To be blunt, I just cared less and less about what happened to Rodney or what would happen to these characters as the film went along.

And so Sayles should be incredibly grateful to his ensemble for never allowing the generic plotting to sink to the soap operatic levels it threatens to reach. In particular, Hamilton never strikes a false note even when delivering horrendous lines like “If I wanted to kill him, he’d be dead.” I’d love to see her get a real, meaty character in a better script. She owns the movie. Olmos takes a less believable, more scenery-chewing tack but seems to be having a blast playing an over-the-hill law-enforcing legend. Perrineau & Washington are typically strong in the first act but then disappear for way too long. Everyone is good but the movie belongs to Hamilton and her performance is easily the best thing about Go For Sisters.

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