DIRECTED BY: Melina Matsoukas
STARRING: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Indya Moore, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Benito Martinez, Jahi Di’Allo Winston and Melanie Halfkenny
While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man and a black woman, are pulled over for a minor traffic infraction. The situation escalates, with sudden and tragic results, when the man kills the police officer in self-defence. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defence lawyer, are forced to go on the run.
Written by Lena Waithe and James Frey, and directed by Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim focuses on the story of a black man and woman going on an awkward Tinder date, that leads to a traffic stop gone wrong as the two of them go on the run after shooting a police officer. As the incident is caught on camera however, the video goes viral and they both unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.
Leading up to its release on these shores, the trailers created intrigue on the films potential with its setup and, it must be said, in its opening fifteen minutes I was immediately captivated with the introduction of the characters going on the worst ice-breaker Tinder date put on film, to them being pulled over by an agitated and aggressive officer that leads to a scenario that feels all too real…but with a different ending in that he’s the one that gets shot fatally. The film is visually stylish, with terrific cinematography by Tat Radcliffe, particularly in the landscape shots as they travel to New Orleans and I particularly enjoy the look of the bar scene as well. After shooting music videos for a number of years, Melina Matsoukas makes her directorial feature debut here and she does a really well here in how she shoots these scenes, from the traffic stop shooting, to heightening the tension in a particular gas station scene and the final act. The character journeys of Queen & Slim are interesting to see unfold too, from Queen’s guarded, proud and lonely personality who gradually lets her guard down around Slim and begins to expose herself to the possibility of love, while Slim is nervously awkward and slightly naive, yet isn’t afraid to stand up up for himself when his back is against the wall. Daniel Kaluuya gives once again a solid performance as Slim, while Jodie Turner-Smith is also impressive as Queen. Bokeem Woodbine makes a lasting impression with his performance as Queen’s uncle Earl, providing the majority of the films comedic moments.
While Queen & Slim does have a lot going for it, sometimes it is let down by the script, as the film tries to balance between creating a love story-by-circumstance, provide a political voice on the current climate of America and talk about legacy and how you’re viewed by the people, some things it lands on but others it struggles in its execution. One of the misjudged executions comes in the form of a sex scene that’s edited along with a protest that ends in violence, it’s very reminiscent of Spielberg’s Munich and not in a good way. The films overall reliance comes down to the connection and journey of Queen & Slim and if some people in the audience can’t buy into their chemistry/relationship together, then this film won’t work as well as it should for them.
While the script/film feels too safe for the topics its tackling, Queen & Slim still has glimpses of brilliance in it that make it worth checking out for the cinematography work from Tat Radcliffe, a solid directorial feature debut from Melina Matsoukas, really good lead performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, as well as a scene stealing performance from Bokeem Woodbine.