John Sayles wrote and directed this crime drama, ‘Go For Sisters’, set around the California-Mexico border. Two women and a disgraced cop look for a missing boy, the son of one of the women. The search will take them across the border into places where drug gangs rule. The Mexican border was the location of one of Sayles’ very best films, ‘Lone Star’ (1996). While this film is not up to ‘Lone Star’, it is an involving if low-key thriller that uses the setting with its drug gangs and illegal emigration scams as palpably as a character.
But it is the unusual relationship of the two black women that takes center stage. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10.
Bernice and Fontayne (played by LisaGay Hamilton and Yolanda Ross) were friends in high school before a boyfriend came between them. Now, it is many years later. Fontayne has had run-ins with the law, went to jail and is now out of prison on parole. Her parole officer is Bernice and, in spite of their former friendship, she is not letting Fontayne get away with anything. Bernice has little use for Fontayne’s breaking of the rules, but Bernice herself is ending a relationship with a man who is returning to his wife. Then Bernice’s son disappears and may have been involved in a local murder.
With a story structure slightly echoing ‘The Magnificent Seven’, Bernice assembles a small team that will go south. She gets Fontayne and Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos). Freddy was once a good cop but disgraced for not reporting on his best friend for corruption. The three go into Mexico around Tijuana to search out Bernice’s son.
This sounds like it could be a rather standard action crime film and in a way it is. But that is not all it is. As the title implies, this film is about sisters. Bernice and Fontayne are sisters, not biologically, but there develops a sister-like bond between them. They had it once before the law came between them. Now, if they are going to succeed in their efforts, they have to depend on each other. They have to act as one. Once in Mexico, Suarez goes in one direction with the investigation and the women go in another.
Sayles usually has a political message behind his films. Here, in his eighteenth film overall, if he is making a point he is being too subtle for me. I guess we do not see a whole bunch of buddy films where the buddies are two African-American women. Perhaps he is saying that even though Bernice and Fontayne have separated and neither cares for what the other has become, they are still more similar than they are different and they are still sisters under the skin.
Familiar faces in the film include in small roles Isaiah Washington and Hector Elizondo.
Sayles’ picture of the drug trade near the border has a feel of authenticity. Over the border there are some tough hombres, but that is accurate. There are several different cultures colliding here and one of the most unexpected is the smuggling of Chinese into the United States.
In this film the crime story is intriguing, but the heart of story is one of two former friends patching their differences and working together so they could ‘go for sisters.’ It is not one of Sayles’ more major films, but it has its rewards. I rate ‘Go For Sisters’ a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Mark R. Leeper
(c) Mark R. Leeper 2013