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‘Go for Sisters’: John Sayles explores friendship


Bernice LisaGay Hamilton

Fontayne Yolanda Ross

Freddy Edward James Olmos

Variance Films presents a film written and directed by John Sayles. Running time: 122 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

From “The Return of the Secaucus 7” (1979) to “Amigo” (2010), John Sayles is an American indie auteur known for character dramas cued to local historical details. Race, work and the land are recurring concerns in his “Lone Star,” “Silver City” and “Sunshine State.” “Go For Sisters” focuses on friendship. The political economy of human trafficking provides a backdrop.

A Chinese gang that smuggles people from Mexico to the U.S. kidnaps a vet of Operation Enduring Freedom. They send his ear and two fingers. His mother Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton from TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age” and ABC’s “The Practice”) is a Los Angeles parole officer who enlists a new parolee Fontayne (Yolonda Ross) to find him. Tight in high school, the pair could “go for sisters” back in the day.

This buddy/road film builds tension with its missing person quest in a border-crossing underworld. Fontayne’s lover in prison leads them to Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos), a former LAPD detective with a tainted record, property taxes and macular degeneration. The trio head for Tijuana and Mexicali. “This isn’t Mexico,” explains Freddy. “This is like a theme park for bad behavior.” (Sayles scripted a similar line in “Limbo”: “Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”)

Poses and ruses equip the searchers at many turns: Freddy pretends to be a DEA agent. Fontayne twice impersonates undercover cops. She credits Bernice for acting like Dirty Harry and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. They lie to a border agent that they are musicians playing at a wedding.

Sayles also shot “Casa de los Babys” and “Men With Guns” in Mexico too but set both films in nameless countries. “Go For Sisters” is less ideological — no one uses the term “imperialist”— but more satisfying for delineating Bernice, Fontayne and Freddy. “You do things for friends,” explains a parolee in Sayles’ key first line.

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