March 11, 2013, release date
Directed by John Sayles
Screenplay by John Sayles
Music by Mason Daring
Edited by John Sayles
Cinematography by Kat Westergaard (as Kathryn Westergaard)
LisaGay Hamilton as Bernice Stokes
Yolanda Ross as Fontayne Scott (neé Campbell)
Edward James Olmos as Freddy Suárez
Hilary Barraford as Cindy
Mahershala Ali as Dez
Harold Perrineau as Wiley
Isaiah Washington as Vernell
Jesse Borrego as Juan Calles
Héctor Elizondo as Jorge Menocal
Distributed by Cinema Management Group
Produced by Variance Films, Anarchists’ Convention, Olmos Productions Inc., Go for Films
Go for Sisters opens with an interview in a parole office. An unidentified female parolee tries, unsuccessfully, to defend her violation of her parole terms. Parole officer Bernice Stokes doesn’t believe her and assigns her to a court hearing. Thus, the film starts right away with lies and deceit, and with people trying to get away with something. The same opening scene sets up a mystery: Bernice gets a phone call during the interview about the whereabouts of someone she is looking for. Viewers don’t learn the identity of this person until a bit later, when they learn that Bernice is looking for her missing son.
Bernice needs help finding her son, Rodney Stokes, but she can’t turn to the authorities, of which she is a member, because her son is a suspect in a murder. One of Rodney Stokes’s friends has been killed. At this point, Bernice doesn’t know if her son is a murderer or if he is alive or dead. She knows what is expected of her as a professional, but she chooses to act as a mother instead, and she enlists the help of one her parolees, a former high school friend Fontayne Scott, to help her find the truth.
Fontayne agrees to help Bernice, partly because she has few options and partly because Bernice holds all the power at the start of their renewed friendship. They haven’t seen each other since high school, and they aren’t sure how much they can rely on one another now that they are adults. Through her contacts, Fontayne finds a former police detective, Freddy Suárez, who has his own backstory: He had to resign from the Los Angeles force because of an internal sting operation and his unwillingness to rat on a fellow officer. Fontayne and Suárez can navigate a world that Bernice doesn’t know too much about, even though she is working on the fringes of that world every day.
Fate plays a direct role in setting up the story: Bernice and Fontayne were high school friends who haven’t seen each other in twenty years when they meet again near the start of the film. Fontayne just happens to be a parolee assigned to Bernice, which means that Bernice has a lot of power over Fontayne’s future. Both Fontayne and Bernice are rather isolated at the start of the film. They work together rather tentatively at first because they haven’t seen each other in so long; they work with Freddy Suárez rather tentatively at first because all three of them need to build trust.
(This blog post about Go for Sisters contains spoilers.)
The search for Rodney Stokes forms the heart of the film. Bernice, Fontayne, and Suárez have their own reasons for joining the search, but they begin to bond and work as a team. The renewal of the friendship of the two women and the chance that Suárez has to rediscover his investigative skills allow them to support one another in dangerous situations. Rodney Stokes is in real trouble: The lead characters and viewers don’t know if he can be found at all, and no one knows if he is still alive. But Bernice, Fontayne, and Suárez persevere because they all become invested for personal reasons and because of their reliance on one another.
In the DVD commentary by writer, director, and editor John Sayles, Sayles calls Go for Sisters a road film. The search for Rodney takes the lead characters all over Los Angeles and eventually across the border, into Mexico. I would also call Go for Sisters a film brûlant (“burning film”), what others call a film soleil, because the heat is definitely a factor throughout, and especially when Bernice, Fontayne, and Suárez are in the desert following the truck and looking for Bernice’s son. All of them, not just Bernice, are under a lot of stress. The heat underscores the building tension: Will they find Rodney at all, let alone alive?