Queen and Slim
Jacob Richardson | 11/03/2020
This mystical, magical Bonnie and Clyde story will shock, surprise and stay with you.
Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) is excited to take Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) on their first date. On their way back from the diner, they are pulled over by a white cop for swerving on the road. Slim doesn’t drink, and Queen is a lawyer, but the cop escalates the situation, eventually forcing Slim to his knees in the snow for no reason, before the unthinkable happens; he shoots Queen in the leg, and in the ensuing struggle Slim kills the cop. Queen and Slim go on the run, stealing cars, relying on favours from old family connections, and making their way for the shores of Miami - and safety in the form of sunny Cuba.
Melina Matsoukas directs this incredible entrancing, visceral piece of cinema, and brings together so many disparate elements to craft a texturally enrapturing 2 and a bit hours in the theatre. There’s humor, romance, thrills and a certain bajou sense of magic that permeates through the celluloid of this piece, and it drags you in willing or not; every element playing off the other to make the whole more tangible and delectable. The romance is so much sweeter, because the thrill is there, and the terror all the more palpable because we care so much about the fate of this couple.
Matsoukas also grounds this tale in a broader allegory around the plight of non-white minorities and police brutality in America. It leads to at times discocerting juxtapositions (a sex scene interlaced with a particularly brutal protest springs to mind), and never shies away from condeming those more moderates on the issue for their enablement of the problem.
Queen and Slim travel from the snowy and cold climes of Ohio to the sun-soaked Miami, and this change in tonality further helps Matsoukas craft a dream-like escape. As they get further and further from Ohio, Queen and Slim start to feel more free - they hang out the side of cars on coastal roads, ride horses, and dance in ‘safe’ bars where their viral dashcam footage has made them local legends and heroes to the disenfranchised community. Such a progression lulls you into a false sense of security, and makes you think you know where this tale is going.
Kaluuya, as always, is on impeccable form. As a good guy - a non-drinking, kind-hearted man - who is thrust into this life of crime, he muddles together the vulnerability and kindness of his composed self with the unburnished survival instincts that saved his and Queen’s lives early in the piece. Kaluuya also brings the romance. An unrepentant crush on Queen plays out in some increasingly romantic occurrences in their cross-country flight. He is ably matched by newcomer Turner-Smith, who delivers an incredible performance that undoubtedly announces her presence on the world stage with rapture. Turner-Smith - the more hotheaded and capable of the pair - plays with some interesting character traits (her mother’s death, her introverted personality, her legal background) to deliver a truly nuanced, compelling performance.
In the end, Queen & Slim tells a relatively straightforward crime thriller in a new and interesting way. Cliche though it is, the thing that enamours this film to you is the journey, not the destination, and it is a journey you won’t want to end.
Queen & Slim is compelling and beautiful.