Fast Color (Julia Hart, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
Though it suffers from some confused world-building, Julia Hart’s Fast Color remains, throughout, an engaging meditation on identity and empowerment. The film follows a trio of women – three generations of a single family – as they confront a shadowy government bureaucracy intent on using them, no matter the cost, to save humanity. Set in a near future where water is scarce and society fracturing, the narrative is simultaneously subdued and fantastical, an intriguing example of indie sci-fi where less is always more, and the spare visual effects count for much. Featuring strong performances from Lorraine Toussaint (Donna Rosewood on Fox’s Rosewood), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle) and Saniyya Sidney (Fences) as mother, daughter and granddaughter of a clan possessed of special abilities, Fast Color is always watchable, no matter its occasional weaknesses of script. It’s also lovely to see a genre film like this starring three strong African-American women defined neither by race nor gender, but character.
We first meet Ruth (Mbatha-Raw) as she is on the run, hiding out in a motel. Suddenly, she senses a change in the air, and before she can do much besides warn the receptionist to take shelter, she is consumed by a seizure which causes an earthquake in the immediate vicinity. As we will learn, this is not the first time, and she is being tracked by government scientists who hope to use this raw power for … something (we’re not sure what). Soon, after a few violent misadventures, she arrives at her childhood home, where her mother Bo (Toussaint) cares for young Lila (Sidney). The other two women are able to break apart and reassemble objects with their minds, the process dissolving said items into swirls of beautiful color that then come together as one. Ruth once could do the same, but lost control and now experiences her dangerous seizures, instead. Can their varying abilities be harnessed in ways beyond these simple exercises? Perhaps. Meanwhile, the forces of law and order close in.
Not all are against them, however. A local sheriff, played by David Strathairn (November Criminals), offers aid, and even if we suspect why (a suspicion later confirmed), the actor’s gentle presence is always welcome. Indeed, if the story falters, it is in the simultaneous obviousness of certain plot developments and underdeveloped elements of others. In a world where, we’re told, it hasn’t rained in 8 years, one would expect the devastations of drought to appear far more severe. In a movie where a character like Strathairn’s Ellis manifests surprising interest in a wayward fugitive, we might hope for a reason beyond the expected. Nevertheless, director Hart (Miss Stevens) so often hits just the perfect combination of melancholy and hopefulness, the whole mixed with just the right amount of supernatural twists, that we watch in fascination to the end, intrigued by all that she does right.