REVIEW: “Fast Color” (2019)

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Each year there is a movie that comes out of nowhere and absolutely knocks my socks off. Most of the time it’s a smaller film worthy of more press and deserving of a much bigger audience. So far no 2019 movie fits that description better than “Fast Color”.

The film is directed by Julia Hart who also co-wrote the screenplay with her husband, producer Jordan Horowitz. “Fast Color” premiered at SXSW in 2018 and was met with strong reviews but no distribution deal. Even after it was eventually picked up by Lionsgate subsidiary Codeblack Films, a split between the companies left the film in limbo. Lack of marketing led to no exposure making it impossible for “Fast Color” to grab the attention it deserves.

That has to be frustrating for Hart and everyone involved especially since their film is genuinely something special. It’s part dystopian science-fiction, part moving family drama. Most surprisingly, it could be defined as a superhero origin story, but one not directed by source material or restricted by franchise obligations. Instead it’s a highly original work with its own unique pulse and more things on its mind than caped crusading and cosmic threats.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw has superpowers in trailer for Fast Color Credit: Jacob Yakob

First the setting: in the American Midwest we learn it has been eight years since the last drop of rain. People can’t grow food and the prices of water have skyrocketed. A fabulous Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Ruth. When we first meet her she’s clearly on the run from something. Soon we learn she suffers from uncontrollable tremors, so violent that they trigger small earthquakes. Of course superpowers like that would draw the attention of the government who are desperate to find and study anything they can to end the planet’s slow demise.

Frightened and with nowhere else to go, Ruth flees to the one place she can potentially feel safe – home. Once there she has a tense reunion with her mother Bo (Lorraine Toussaint) who has been raising Ruth’s daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney) for ten years on a remote country farmhouse. Hart begins to shrewdly unpack the complicated family history surrounding three generations of women. The less you know the better, but I’ll say this much: All three have special powers that have been passed down through the women of their family. But Ruth struggles, even portrayed as “broken” due to her inability to tap into her abilities.

While you could call “Fast Color” a superhero movie, it doesn’t draw its strength from spectacle but from the mysterious wonders of ordinary life and the relationships that help shape us. Many small details both physical and emotional bring weight to the story and resonate through Hart’s canvas. And they help to explore the wealth of stimulating themes: the power of maternal bonds, embracing individuality, family legacies, addiction, and that just scratches the surface.

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So many elements add to the rich and engaging storytelling. Hart and her cinematographer Michael Fimognari do a variety of interesting things with the camera from elegant tracking movements to well-framed stationary shots. Rob Simonsen’s score is most often quietly effective but other times emotionally stirring without being manipulative. There’s the strong supporting work from Toussaint (I hope Oscar is paying attention), Sidney, and the always reliable David Strathairn playing a small town sheriff. And of course Mbatha-Raw who is convincing, committed, and utterly compelling. How is she not considered among our best working actresses?

It’s a real tragedy that “Fast Color” has been all but lost among the waves of 2019 movie releases both large and small. But it’s not too late. After a botched marketing campaign and minuscule theater release, “Fast Color” is now available on several streaming platforms (Vudu, Microsoft Movies, Amazon Prime, iTunes). There simply aren’t enough of these experiences out there – movies willing to infuse familiar genres with fresh, creative, and thought-provoking ideas. Beautifully conceived both narratively and visually, thematically rich and full of inspiration. This is a film truly worth championing and I’m happy to do so. It also happens to one of the year’s very best.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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“THE BOURNE LEGACY” – 3.5 STARS

I was late catching up with the “Bourne” series which is highly unusual since they are the type of movie I gravitate towards. I’ve now seen the first three films starring Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, one of several physically and mentally enhanced government black ops projects. Damon steps aside but the series continues with “The Bourne Legacy”. Jeremy Renner is the new leading man playing a new leading character but writer and director Tony Gilroy maintains an import sense of connection and familiarity with the previous films. Gilroy wrote the first three movies and goes to great lengths to make this feel like a Bourne film while also possibly launching the series into a new direction. While Gilroy does occasionally struggle matching up with earlier films, the movie definitely has its moments that nicely falls in line with the series.

While Jason Bourne isn’t in the movie his presence is clearly felt. Gilroy (and his brother Dan who also helped with the screenplay) connect the actions of “The Bourne Ultimatum” to this story. As Jason Bourne continues to threaten the government’s black ops programs, Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is called in to clean the mess up. His solution – to wipe out all of the human projects and those connected to them. One of those projects turned target is Aaron Cross (Renner), an Operation Outcome agent who is considered a step up from those involved in the now exposed Treadstone. But when the attempt on his life fails, Cross is sent scrambling for answers. He’s also ran out of a special medication that keeps him both mentally and physically balanced. Cross tracks down Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz), a doctor connected to Operation Outcome who he hopes can get him get the pills he needs. But she soon finds that her connection to the project has made her one of Byer’s targets and Cross is her only chance at survival.

For many, the big question revolves around Renner. Does his Aaron Cross match what Damon was able to bring to his Jason Bourne character? Well, yes and no. Renner is most certainly Damon’s equal when it comes to acting. Renner is completely convincing and he’s got the physical abilities to sell each and every action sequence. Cross is different from Bourne in that there is no amnesia.  He knows he’s part of a government project although the amount of knowledge he has is limited. While this isn’t necessarily a flaw with the character, it did take away one of the most intriguing elements of Bourne’s story. But a slightly bigger problem with the character isn’t as much about Renner as it is the writing and direction. Cross is a solid protagonist but I couldn’t help feeling that he lacked the intensity of Jason Bourne. There are a couple of scenes where he “loses it” for a lack of a better phrase, but overall he seldom comes across as intense or as threatening as Bourne.

Nonetheless, Renner’s performance is very good and he’s also surrounded by a strong supporting cast. Weisz is always great and she’s no different here. Her character is the most sympathetic in the film and I loved how Weisz portrays her through the numerous emotionally charged situations she has to deal with. Norton is also good as the evil government clean-up guy. He easily sells the amoral “just doing my job” persona and we genuinely dislike this guy from the moment he first enters the picture. I also really liked Oscar Isaac as a fellow Outcome operative who Cross encounters early in the film. Bourne fans will also enjoy the small but interesting returns of David Strathairn, Joan Allen, and Scott Glenn. Each have cool little tie-in scenes that answer questions left over from the last film.

“The Bourne Legacy” doesn’t hurry out of the gate. Gilroy takes his time laying out the story and defining his characters. There were a couple of times when I did feel things were moving a little too slow, but overall it works well  and the movie’s third act is pretty action packed. Speaking of the action, it captures some of the same qualities of the past Bourne flicks – hard-hitting hand-to-hand fight scenes and of course a vehicle chase scene. I mean you can’t have a Bourne movie without a vehicle chase and this film gives us a great one. Renner thrills as he runs, jumps, punches, and kicks. Unfortunately his fight scenes are almost rendered incoherent due to moments of inconsistent editing. There were a couple of fight scenes where I literally had no idea what was going on other than punching.

I can see where some would consider “The Bourne Legacy” a cash grab. But even with its few flaws it’s still a fun movie that fits right in with the Bourne series. It stumbles in a few areas and I wouldn’t consider it the best of the series. But Gilroy knows the material well and he knows how to bring new characters into this universe. Renner gives a strong performance and Weisz is wonderful to watch. It also features a chase sequence at the end that is nothing short of awesome. But more importantly, it left me anxious and anticipating what’s coming next. So I would call it a success.