Fast Color | Julia Hart | April 19th, 2019
Julia Hart, the director of 2016’s Miss Stevens, returns with Fast Color, based on the screenplay that she co-wrote with husband Jordan Horowitz (producer of La La Land), which gives us a more grounded and modest look at the possibilities of regular people with superhero abilities.
We meet Ruth (Cloverfield Paradox‘s Gugu Mbatha-Raw) on the run in a dusty portion of middle America in a near-dystopian world where it hasn’t rained in eight years. Why she’s on the run is initially left shrouded in mystery, but you slowly connect the dots as the film progresses. One of the strong suits of Hart and Horowitz’s script is the way that they let this mystery sit and settle, working at a slow burn pace but one that allows you to settle into this world and try to put all the pieces together in real time.
It turns out that she as some sort of superpower or ability that she’s unable to control, which causes dangerous earthquakes in her vicinity. We eventually encounter an equally mysterious man named Bill (Christopher Denham) who knows more about Ruth than he initially lets on during their first encounter. With nowhere else to go, Ruth returns home to the house of her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint), who has been helping raise Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney). Then there’s the side character of Sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn), who has been trying to track down Ruth as well, following the messy scene left behind after her first encounter with Bill.
Ruth’s powers/gifts run within the veins of all of the women in her family, spanning generations. Their gifts are both similar and different, as is their ability to control them. While this is clearly a main component of the story, don’t be fooled; this isn’t a blockbuster superhero film working in the arena of, say, Marvel. It’s more like the slow-burn and gritty nature of Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special than the giant CGI spectacles that we have become so accustomed to.
The heart and soul of the story are found in the relationships between these women and how these powers have brought them back together, but are also the very same reason that they have spent so much time apart. Played magnificently by the trio of Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint, and Sidney, they convincingly bring this story to life, making the fantastical elements feel so raw, passionate, and real.
While Fast Color takes some time to allow you to settle into this world and piece all the elements together, Hart’s mystery approach of giving all the clues as the film progresses leads to some pacing issues. The pacing isn’t totally consistent and the finale does feel a bit rushed, but the smart and patient storytelling approach helps with the film’s grounded sense of reality that balances nicely with its more bombastic and grandiose ideas.
Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Michael Fimognari, the film looks great and captures a rural heartland Americana that feels raw and authentic. It’s all juxtaposed nicely with composer Rob Simonsen’s score, which mixes classical elements with more modern synth work that stirs and soars whenever called upon.
Ultimately, Fast Color is a film that stands out in the way it does a lot with a little and makes it all feel genuine and well-meaning. While larger superhero films rely so much on setting up shared universes and building up to sequels instead of focusing on a developed and rich story, it’s nice to have a small-scale superhero film that operates so confidently in its own way, eschewing capes and tights and allowing it to shine and stand out as a result.