“It takes its time in developing its characters and themes without ever feeling like it’s spinning its wheels.”
by Ken Bakely
The first thing we notice in Julia Hart’s Fast Color is the film’s slow and steady resonance. Though a “deliberate pace” is often a vague movie review buzzword, deliberation applies here in the most direct sense. It takes its time in developing its characters and themes without ever feeling like it’s spinning its wheels. The plot unfolds with a delicate balance of controlled detail. Set in a world of chaos – a future United States where it has not rained in several years, and a few gallons of water costs $50 – the movie is less about showing the disaster than examining the people living within it. In the expansive, drought-destroyed Midwestern plains, where the action takes place, every interaction with another person carries the unspoken significance of the struggle that they endure together, which has long overridden the memories of what came before. We follow Ruth (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a woman who moves from place to place, always ready to quickly move on within a moment’s notice. This is because she is on the run, with government agents following her every move. She comes from a family of women who have had the power to summon the elements at their will, with their powers ranging from causing earthquakes to disassembling objects at a material level. Her mother, Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), and young daughter, Lila (Saniyya Sidney) also share these powers. Long separated from them, Ruth reunites with her family as the pursuit intensifies. Through this turn of events, Ruth’s past gains new meaning as she returns home in the midst of an unstable present and an uncertain future.
Hart’s careful sense of guidance is a lot of what makes Fast Color as fascinating an experience as it is. Where many other filmmakers would be tempted to run through and move onto some large burst of messy plotting, she, directing from a script written by her and Jordan Horowitz, chooses to keep things focused on these characters and their interactions. It’s a superhero story about how the heroes live with their powers, and not solely about their use of them – though that’s certainly an element of things, and particularly effective in how relatively low-key visual effects can be much more enchanting in a small movie than giant setpieces are in big movies. While the movie’s final moments infer many more adventures in this universe and with these characters, and to be sure, a TV series is apparently in development, what we see is never rushed. We learn based on the plot’s own merits, not an ulterior desire to worldbuild for some future installments. Also going a long way to keep things going is the capable cast. Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint, and Sidney are a brilliant trio of artists, reaching both to the heights of the genre but basing it all in a deep human foundation. The bond of the three family members speaks of the complex history they’ve endured, and while we get a few flashbacks to previous times that fill in the most fundamental gaps, Hart lets her actors bring forward the finer emotional points. What does it mean for them to have lived with this power for generations? What do they do, faced with the fact that the threat of the authorities coming after them, with their frighteningly unclear motives, is now more palpable than ever?
Sometimes this stands in contrast with the movie’s efforts to maintain a precise mood through splashes of vague mystery; then, Fast Color can feel a bit too scattered. Though the characters are well-developed by the end, the film’s overriding energy does not always track as consistently in terms of pace and structure. Nevertheless, Hart’s strengths in worldbuilding and thematic communication, alongside the cast’s talents, go a long way in keeping things together. One hardly expects any major studio superhero tales to take the risk of pondering as many possibilities that Hart and company do here, for the simple reason that, it doesn’t always pay off under the neatest definitions (and sometimes, it doesn’t quite work to begin with). But for its occasional shortcomings, it’s still deeply refreshing to see a movie that can achieve so much through the evocation of characters who both seem magnificently realized and have so many stories left to . The film’s title refers to a particular trait of the powers shared by the family members: the ability to have bright auras of color dance before their eyes at particular moments. This notion, which becomes more significant to us as the events proceed, is representative of the best elements of the movie’s approach. Though it may seem small in the abstract, it’s part of a large and vivid tapestry of details that, by the end, conveys more than we thought it would at the start, and does so with an effortless touch that incorporates it into everything else.