Queen And Slim


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Queen & Slim
"Everything here is urgent, both in story and in theme."

The all-American couple-on-the-run road movie has always been a good format through which to explore the intersection of liberty and precarity. For some Americans, however, precarity is inescapable. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are both educated, presentable, middle class people. Queen has recently passed her bar exam. But when, driving home after a blind date in a restaurant, they are pulled over by a racist cop, all that matters is the colour of their skin.

What would you do if you shot a police officer in self defence after he injured the person you were with? Wherever you are, there's a high chance that your answer will be influenced by your experiences of social prejudice. As a lawyer, Queen knows all too well what happens to black Americans inside the criminal justice system. She understands why Slim had to pull the trigger but she also understands the immensity of the obstacles they'd need to overcome to prove that. So before he has time to get his bearings and understand what's happening, she has taken charge, ordering him to drive away from the scene and keep driving. Get out of town. Change vehicles. Find someplace to hide. Get out of state. Keep running, if necessary, for the rest of their lives - because his life depends on it.

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Stripping plot down to the bone, newcomer Melina Matsoukas builds her film layer upon layer by focusing on character and the larger tragedy of how black people still have to live in the US today. She leavens it with humour, sometimes at the expense of Slim, who would get everything wrong if he were not being looked after, and finds a secret joy in the way that black strangers celebrate his unintended actions, providing the runaways with assistance at unexpected times. There's a revolutionary spirit boiling under the surface of this film which Slim can't successfully dissociate himself from no matter how hard he tries. Meanwhile Queen transforms from the kind of smartly dressed young woman white society approves of into something much more overtly fierce. Able at last to address her fears and frustrations directly, she discovers a kind of freedom as she travels through what the pair know may be their last days.

Matsoukas draws heavily on established form and in places the film keeps to the bat with painful predictability, but she does what she does well. The inevitable moment when our heroes step outside the restrictions of space and time to discover that they're falling for each other feels real and enchanting. Would they have had this chance any other way? Queen thinks not. She decided to date Slim because he looked sad and she felt sorry for him. Pushed to the edge, forced to set aside their illusions about themselves and one another, they find a deeply human connection.

Kaluuya is charming as ever and carries viewers through the early stages of the film before there has really been time to get to know the protagonists. Turner-Smith takes her time, her character deliberately distant at first, but turns in a powerful performance once she's found her groove. Both exert such force of personality that the idea of them being shot dead - a likely result of being caught - takes on an extra level of horror. We get a sense of the emptiness they'd leave behind. At one point a teenage admirer tells them they could be immortal; Queen answers kindly but firmly that she'd rather be alive.

Queen & Slim is a cri de coeur, a condemnation of the injustice that stains US society, but it's too in-you-face, abrupt and real to feel preachy. Despite occasional scenes in which Matsoukas struggles with pacing, there's a real sense of energy and momentum about it. Everything here is urgent, both in story and in theme, and no matter how often you've found yourself rooting for cinema's romantic outlaws, these are two you won't forget.

Reviewed on: 06 Jan 2020
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Queen And Slim packshot
Two young people on a blind date go on the run after shooting a racist police officer in self defence.
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Director: Melina Matsoukas

Writer: Lena Waithe, James Frey

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore, Benito Martinez

Year: 2019

Runtime: 132 minutes

Country: Canada, US


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