Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Movie Review: Fast Color

Fast Color *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Julia Hart.
Written by: Julia Hart & Jordan Horowitz.
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Ruth), Lorraine Toussaint (Bo), David Strathairn (Ellis), Christopher Denham (Bill), Saniyya Sidney (Lila), Aliza Halm (Young Ruth), Monique Straw (Shelia). 
If superhero movies are going to remain the dominant force in popular culture that they’ve been for a decade now – and it appears likely they will remain so for at least a while longer – hopefully, we can see a few more movies like Fast Color, which is essentially an indie version of a superhero origin story. While hardly a perfect film, it is a film that takes the question of people with super human abilities seriously, and places them in a world that could really use those powers – one that is a few years away from our own.
The film does a quick job of getting us up to speed on the state of the world – a world in which it hasn’t rained in years, and humans have lost the ability to produce their own food in a sustainable way. Water now comes at a premium, and everything is dusty is basically the extent of it (I wish it had dug a little deeper here, but I get that isn’t really what they were going for here). We are thrust into the company of Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who is on the run, although we don’t know why or from whom. It isn’t long before we realize that she has some sort of powers – powers she cannot control – as she checks into a hotel room, feels something coming on, and warns the front desk to prepare themselves – and then basically, causes a massive earthquake. She escapes before anyone can question her – but the next day in a diner, a seemingly nice, very meek man strikes up a conversation – and it isn’t long before they are driving together, and he reveals he isn’t so meek after all. Eventually, Ruth will make it back to her home – her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) who is raising Ruth’s daughter – Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Bo and Lila also have powers – but they are in control of theirs, and nothing like the earthquakes happen. We also learn why Ruth left in the first place, why she has come back – and why those earthquakes are happening. It is, of course, only a matter of time before those forces come looking as well.
The movie reveals its secrets slowly – too slowly if you ask me. There are multiple times in the movie when you figure something out, and wait for the movie to explain it to you explicitly, only to wait so long that you assume it’s just going to assume that you understand, and only then does it make it explicit (the character relationships are the most obvious example of this). The filmmakers hold back the information so long that you have to assume that when it was revealed, it was meant to shock you – but they are so obvious, that they don’t. Still, it’s a relatively minor flaw – as pretty much every time the pull one of these “reveals” they move quickly onto something else.
What sets Fast Color apart is a number of things. The first is probably the strength of the two lead performances by Mbatha-Raw and Toussaint. Mbatha-Raw is one of those actresses who has been doing such solid work for a while now, you keep expecting her to truly breakout, even if it hasn’t quite happened yet (she’s been excellent in any number of things like the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror and especially the underseen Beyond the Lights). This is an intense, physical performance – she plays a woman of unspeakable power, but who is afraid of that power, because she cannot control it – she never knows when it will be set off, so she is nervous. Toussaint is more in control – confident in her abilities, and quietly in control of them. She is confident that she is doing the right thing – even if in the audience, you aren’t as confident as she is. She plays Bo as a woman who has had decades dealing with her abilities, and knows precisely how to protect herself – and Lila. And yet, both of these women have paid a price for their abilities that has led them here. The strength of the mother-daughter relationship – and how the movie shows what is passed down generation to generation – is the heart of the film, and makes it unique.
I do think that the end of the film is rush however – as if co-writers Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (Hart directed it herself) felt they needed to end it someway, and so came up with something that wrapped everything up neatly (apparently, the movie may become a TV show, and while we hardly need more TV shows about people with superpowers, this one may be worth it). The film tries to cram too much into 100 minutes, leaving some things unexplored so we can get this films versions of a special effects laden climax (the special effects here being beautiful – not the mass of CGI soup we normally see).
Still, I do think that the film works as what it intends to be – a superhero origin story that the filmmakers have taken seriously, instead of rushed to get to a conflict with the bad guy (there really isn’t one here). I look forward to the TV series – and whatever Hart does next as a filmmaker. Her direction here is subtle, and quietly moving – and she gets excellent performances from her two leads. You can tell there is something special here.

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