Review: Queen and Slim

I’m sure you’ve had some pretty dire Tinder dates in your life, but have they ever ended in an altercation with the police which left the officer dead and yourself at the centre of a nation-wide manhunt? Queen and Slim explores the inescapable consequences which come with facing the law as an African American, as well as the frustrating desires to create a legacy, and does so to great success.

Opening on a lacklustre first date between Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), which sees the two spatting gripes at each other over small annoyances they find in each other, things quickly turn west after a run-in with a sleazy policeman ends in his shooting in a matter of self-defence. The couple then set off on the run, under Queen’s knowledge as a lawyer that things will not end well for them as African Americans if they are arrested. As they spend every second together evading the law, a bond ensues as they uncover the deeper aspects of each other, all the way under the notion that any second could be their last.

Being a film which ‘glorified’ the two leads and harshly antagonised the American justice system for its deep-rooted racist prejudices, this film was of course always going to spark controversy amongst audiences. But it is this exact controversy and discussion which is highlighted in the film, making sure to depict that it is not in actual as simple as ‘the racist police against black people’. Along their journey, Queen and Slim meet a variety of people who bring with them differing stances on the pair’s actions and ensuing manhunt. The idea which may ultimately be drawn, upon reflection, is that the film itself does not glorify the actions of the couple, but instead acts to depict a very believable scenario and the rightful way that such people would act in. It is the glorification and icon-status that is rewarded to the two by the black community in the film which successfully and devastatingly pinpoints the corrupt and racist actions of the everyday American police force.

On her big-screen directorial debut, Melina Matsoukas delivers a very stylish film, owing influence to her deep back catalogue of music video direction, that delivers most of its high points in Queen and Slim’s on-the-road discussions about heavy topics such as what it means to truly live and be remembered. Style is never at the cost of substance for Matsoukas however, instead only adding to the leads’ momentary escapes of ignorance from the dire reality of their situation, accompanied by beautiful shots of the Louisiana countryside. Turner-Smith and Kaluuya shine as the two leads, with a great on-screen chemistry which is as believable as it is heart-breaking. Kaluuya’s fear is ever-present in his eyes, as he gradually comes to terms with the consequences of his situation throughout the film. All of this is accompanied by an excellent soundtrack and a moody score, which only further sets the tone and ambience of the film’s environment.

What solidifies the film so greatly is the strong emotional weight that it carries, most notably within the closing scenes. Matsoukas keeps you hanging onto hope until the final minutes of the run time, and the ensuing conclusion and aftermath remind the viewer of the painstaking inescapable realities of being a minority in modern America, or indeed, the modern world. While there are moments throughout where the pacing of the film lets it down a little and the story and themes begin to drag, this is quickly picked up again in the final act, to a heart-breaking effect.

Overall, Queen and Slim is a film that has and will continue to spark strong debate over its depiction of America and its various institutions, all the while showcasing a brilliant array of talent in its cast and crew. Kaluuya has cemented himself as one of the finest actors working in Hollywood today, with Turner-Smith and Matsoukas surely heading in the same direction.

Image Credit: Universal Studios