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'Go For Sisters' is John Sayles' most engaging film in ages

Pioneering filmmaker John Sayles marries his serious and genre styles for "Go for Sisters," a character- and issue-driven thriller.

Lisa Gay Hamilton stars in John Sayles' "Go For Sisters." Credit: Variance Films Lisa Gay Hamilton stars in John Sayles' "Go For Sisters."
Credit: Variance Films

‘Go For Sisters’
Director: John Sayles
Stars: Lisa Gay Hamilton, Yolanda Ross
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

John Sayles is one of the pioneers of American independent cinema, but he got there in an unusual way: He funded his art by writing for-hire creature features and other genre fare. It’s more amusing than revelatory that the guy who made such heavy liberal tracts as “Matewan,” “Eight Men Out” and “Lone Star” also had a key creative hand in “Piranha,” “Alligator” and “The Howling.” Those two sides have rarely met, but they come close in his latest, "Go For Sisters." Lisa Gay Hamilton plays a tough, dispassionate parole officer searching for her son, who has gone missing in Mexico. To help her, she enlists an old high school friend and current parolee (Yolanda Ross), plus a half-blind private dic (Edward James Olmos) to hit Tijuana and explore the Chinese mafia, all while posing as wedding band.

If this — plus the inclusion of shoot-outs and car chases — makes “Go For Sisters” sound more keyed-up than it is, then chill: this is still your usual Sayles film, exploring issues like life after jail, border relations and the history of Chinese immigrants in Mexico. Sayles’ own films tend to be weighed down by sometimes interminable didacticism; he doesn’t always bother to put his findings and thoughts into compelling narratives. But genre films have a long history of raising issues through trashy plots, and it’s a surprise it’s taken Sayles this long to marry his twin jobs into one.

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“Go For Sisters” is fairly organic, and even when it’s not it at least showcases his gift for sketching vivid characters and finding terrific actors to embody them. All three leads are complex and lived-in, none more than Ross, an underknown who brings a weary toughness that pairs nicely with Hamilton’s sometimes skittish behavior. Like some genre films, though, things get pretty stupid. (Still, only a seasoned screenwriter would include a pursuit that gets delayed when our heroes need to fill up the gas tank.) But the first half hour, before the “fun” even begins, is sharp in a way Sayles films haven’t been in ages. Logic soon dies and things turn sloppy, but it by then it’s already built up enough good will to get by.

 
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