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Fast Color

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 01/13/20 20:06:39

"Super."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Their work is just one of the elements that go into making "Fast Color" a nifty little movie, but I'll bet that the visual effects crew had fun with this one. What they do is simple to describe, but great-looking, with detail and room for imagination. That goes for the movie, too, which marries B-movie sci-fi to personal drama in immensely satisfying fashion.

Meet Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); she's been on the run across a near-future (or alternate-present) America which hasn't seen rain in years, capable of getting into trouble on her own but also hunted because her shaking fits correlate to earthquakes, and that's the sort of thing that gets sinister government types on your trail. For better or worse, her path has brought her back home to where her estranged mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) is raising Ruth's daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). They've got gifts, too, though not nearly as powerful or out-of-control as Ruth's, and Bo is all too aware that Ruth coming home doesn't just mean the possibility of government agents more dangerous than Sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn), but the sort of upheaval that a mother with Ruth's troubled history might bring to nine-year-old LIla.

On a certain surface level, Fast Color is a ton of sci-fi pieces that viewers have seen before but put together just right; the synth-heavy music and the slow apocalypse in the background recall a time when independent genre filmmakers didn't have a ton of money to fill every frame and would let the emptiness or dirty little details like signs referencing the water shortage put the audience in that other place. The filmmakers use the sense of doom hanging over the world to enhance not just the personal stakes for the rest of the film but the paranormal ones surrounding Ruth; even if the audience is at a point where it takes government scientists hunting people with strange powers for granted, the world teetering adds a bit of extra urgency, even as its familiarity keeps it from blotting out the more personal stories.

Those, too, are smartly chosen. Ruth's struggles with her powers are entwined with and reflective of her problems with addiction in solid ways, in that even when it's related as backstory, it's easy to grasp how she could accidentally cause random devastation all around her and be driven deeper and deeper into an outlaw existence, and the moment when the film finally flashes back to her lowest point feels genuine even considering its fantastical enhancements. Bo is wise but flawed, tending to retreat and so concerned with safety above all that she reinforces the idea that even with their powers, the best these women can do is get back to where they started, even as the younger generations chafe at this, wanting to do more and fix things. The details may resonate most directly with other African-American women, but there is something universal in the struggle and themes of it.

Plus, such a terrific cast. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives Ruth just the right blend of being convincing when thinking on her feet and afraid of herself, her present not defined by the frequent panic seen in flashbacks (literal flashes in most cases, seldom longer than a second or two) but definitely mindful of it. She plays especially well off Lorraine Toussaint as her no-nonsense mother, two different types of very strong-willed women clashing but also falling into comfortable familial arrangements. The third generation of actors playing this family, Saniyya Sidney, does a really excellent job of being precocious and bringing out a rebellious streak without it seeming fake as is often the case. On top of that, very little bodes better for a movie like this than David Strathairn showing up to play an important part.

If the film has a notable flaw, it's that it feels a little uncertain toward the end, with a number of pieces moving quickly or fitting together in awkward fashion as director Julia Hart and co-writer Jordan Horowitz try to ease the audience out after the climax. Though not really a superhero movie, it's got enough of the same DNA to suggest more stories to be told, and it's a shame that the forthcoming television series likely won't have the same cast. For the amount of story that could be told in this movie, "Fast Color" is impressively strong, with anything more to come a bonus.

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