Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sayles’ Go for Sisters
judge from John Sayles’ latest, everyone in Tijuana’s Chinatown is involved in
human trafficking. It is not quite the
case of profiling that it might sound like.
Everybody in the sin-ridden border town is up to something according to
Sayles’ Go for Sisters (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
in the day, Bernice and Fontayne were close friends and fellow cheerleaders. Then
a mister came between the two high school girls who could “go for sisters.” They went their very divergent ways after their
falling out. Twenty years later, Bernice
is the by-the-book parole officer assigned Fontayne’s case. At first, she wants none of her former friend’s
excuses, but she uncharacteristically gives Fontayne a pass on a minor
infraction. Initially, she is a little
uncomfortable with Fontayne’s resulting gratitude, but she soon calls in the
her son has fallen in with the criminal element and has gone missing south of
the border. Bernice will need Fontayne’s
help navigating the shadowy world of gangs and vice. Obviously, human trafficking is a little out
of the recovering addict’s league, so they duly recruit the more seasoned
services of Freddy “The Terminator” Suárez, a disgraced ex-cop who knows people
on both sides of the law and both sides of the border.
an extent, Sisters represents something
of a return to form for Sayles after the profoundly disappointing
anti-imperialist finger-wagging of Amigo. Like his best films, Sisters is a character-driven affair that lets every quietly
revelatory scene play out in its own patient time.
his thriller mechanics are a bit rusty.
We never really see any of the bad guys and frankly they never act all
that menacing. (Particularly problematic, the few Asian characters we briefly
encounter are clumsy stereotypes, such as Mother Han, the Godmother of the
Tijuana Chinatown mob.) Sayles might be a veteran writer for hire, but he would
make Chekhov wince when the mysterious smuggling tunnel Bernice and Fontayne
are invited to explore never factors at all in the later narrative.
works for Sisters are its three
primary co-leads. LisaGay Hamilton and
Yolanda Ross are terrific together, convincingly conveying all the complicated
history shared by Bernice and Fontayne.
As Suárez, Edward James Olmos raises steely reserve to a high art. It is also nice to see Hector Elizondo turn
up in a cameo, even if his scene serves little dramatic purpose.
the supposed ticking clock, Sisters
ambles along at Sayles’ typically unhurried pace. It feels like a Sayles movie,
which is cool, even if it undercuts its genre ambitions. Even if it is not a breakneck thriller,
Sayles provides a sympathetic showcase for his cast. Refreshingly free of polemics, Go for Sisters is recommended (with
respect rather than passion) for those who appreciate understated drama. It opens tomorrow (11/8) in New York at the
AMC Empire and the Village East.
Labels: Edward James Olmos, John Sayles