Oh, secret government agencies and all those who work for such mysterious and powerful bodies:
When are you going to learn to embrace and unite with the mutants, the aliens and/or the supernaturally gifted? Why do you insist on assuming they’re our enemies and they must be hunted down and captured and contained?
Writer-director Julia Hart’s tight and lean and smart and cool and sometimes beautiful “Fast Color” has the basic framework of a superhero origins story, but Ruth, the heroine in this story, is 100% human. (At times she reminded me of Sarah Connor, “Terminator 2” edition.)
Ruth has never been able to harness or even understand the special abilities she has inherited from her mother and her mother’s mother, and she feels cursed, not blessed.
Also, she’s on the run in a bleak near future where it hasn’t rained in years, and virtually the entire planet has become a barren wasteland, unable to produce crops. Water is in short supply and has become a pricey commodity (a half-gallon jug will set you back $15 or more) to be used sparingly, whether for drinking or cooking or a quick wash-up.
So yup, there’s a lot going on.
Star on the rise Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives an electric performance as Ruth, a young woman with a history of seizures so violent, they can literally cause earthquake-level shifts in the tectonic plates of the Earth — even in places where there’s never been an earthquake.
When Ruth was still a teenager, her inability to control these episodes led to a near-tragedy involving a family member. Terrified by the prospect of the next seizure (or the next, or the next) hurting someone she loves, and at constant odds with her overprotective mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint, delivering powerful work), Ruth storms out the front door one day and never looks back.
Years later, with the planet shriveled up and dying, Ruth is living like a fugitive — always on the run with a gun in her bag, stealing cars to get from place to place, constantly looking over her shoulder as she tries to scrape up the money to buy some water and get a meal and find lodging for the night in some rundown motel.
She’s not paranoid. Certain authority figures have become aware of Ruth’s seizures and the effect they have on the planet, and they’d like to “bring her in” and keep her in custody so they can put her under the government microscope and see if there’s a way to exploit her mysterious gifts.
Ruth has never seen the upside of the forces within her. Unlike her mother, she’s never been able to “see the colors,” i.e., achieving an advanced state of using the gift in which one can literally see beautiful colors as she takes control and performs feats such as putting together broken objects.
With nefarious government agents bearing down in typically clunky movie-villain fashion, e.g., taking out a giant needle during a struggle and telling her to just relax, Ruth decides THIS is the time to return to her childhood home, even though it will almost certainly bring the authorities to the front door.
But Ruth has her reason. She’d like to reconnect and reconcile with her mother — and she’s hoping to get to know her adolescent daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney), whom she hasn’t seen since Lila was just a baby.
Mother, daughter and granddaughter are now under one roof.
Each has inherited a magical, mysterious, often misunderstood, supernatural gift.
Bo has spent most of her life as a recluse, keeping her abilities her under wraps, for fear of persecution from outsiders who won’t understand. Ruth has never been able to break free to the next level, see the colors and take control of her powers. Lila … well, Lila is brilliant and extraordinarily gifted, but she’s also very young and brimming with positivity, and she thinks this family gift is pretty dang cool.
This makes for some rich dramatic material about the dynamic between three generations of women, each with a different perspective. And we haven’t even talked about the sheriff (David Strathairn) who seems to know an awful lot about the family.
Working with an economical running time of 100 minutes and a relatively modest budget, Hart infuses “Fast Color” with genuinely moving drama, an engrossing, supernatural-sci-fi mystery and some pretty darn impressive special effects.
This is one of my favorite movies of the year so far.
Lionsgate presents a film directed by Julia Hart and written by Hart and Jordan Horowitz. Rated PG-13 (for a scene of violence and brief strong language). Running time: 100 minutes. Now showing at local theaters.