Directed By Melina Matsoukas
Starring – Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Chloe Sevigny
The Plot – While on a forgettable first date together in Ohio, a black man (Kaluuya) and a black woman (Turner-Smith, in her first starring feature-film role), 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-defense. Terrified and in fear for their lives, the man, a retail employee, and the woman, a criminal defense lawyer, are forced to go on the run. But the incident is captured on video and goes viral, and the couple unwittingly become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people across the country.
Rated R for violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive adult language, and brief drug use
– Modern rendering. It’s easy to view the trailers and see this for what it really is; a contemporary re-imagining of the ages old Bonnie and Clyde story that pits our couple as two souls in love against the world, and hell, even a line in the movie alludes to this point. Where the creativity springs, and the differences start to mount is in the growing disdain from black citizens against a police force that periodically oversteps their boundaries. What this does is not only allow the titular characters of the film to become immortalized in the many in their demographic who feel the same way, but also cleverly instill thought-provoking social commentary for who the villains of the story truly are. In Bonnie and Clyde, the duo are so obviously the provokers, but the plot in “Queen and Slim” paints a vivid picture of a routine traffic stop that eventually turned into one unleashed nightmare that its two protagonists couldn’t control. This grants the characters a more satisfying supply of empathy that the previous duo didn’t inherit, all the while illustrating a world that feels very close to ours in social and political proximity.
– Dynamic duo. The chemistry and charisma from Kaluuya and Smith is ever so radiant in the way their characters grow and expand, not just with their interactions from one another as time grows, but also in us the audience, who they eventually open up to. This proves they’re willing to attack any shape-shifting dynamic given to their character as the script ages, but beyond that it proves that they are the perfect casting in what each role demands from them. For Smith, it’s the intelligence factor that makes her so much more than just a pretty face. Aside from this, her gritty appeal is there, as the unflinching focus that she exerts in zeroing in on the object of her eyes, gives her a resounding range of emotional beats that change and adapt with each unnerving situation the group experiences. Kaluuya once again steals the show, bringing along a pair of soulful eyes and human psychology to make his character irresistible to the progression of the plot. In Daniel, it’s the burning fire of a dreamer, as well as the stability to remain cool under pressure, that provides a rock for the group that always makes the possible feel like the inevitable. These two were a lot of fun to watch on-screen, and no doubt made me invest more into the storm of media coverage that practically envelopes them whole, and takes them down the kind of dark roads that weren’t initially intended.
– Surprising humor backbone. One thing that the trailers didn’t allude to was the interesting level of comedy that is included in a plot that is anything but light-hearted. What’s so endearing about this aspect is it proves that the dark matter of one fateful night didn’t change them for the worst, and still allowed them several instances of awkward interaction with an array of quirky supporting characters that keeps the steady flow of pacing fresh as it constantly tries to reinvent itself. What’s pivotal is it doesn’t take away from the dramatic beats of the story, nor does it keep us the audience from distinguishing the severity of the situation. Instead, it contributes to a first half of the movie that supplants no shortage of examples to fall in love with these characters, all the while losing yourself in the lunacy of the plan, which seems to change every few minutes.
– Artistic visionary. Matsoukas, a mostly music video director, takes her first steps as a feature presentational director in a story that is every bit as expressive as the musical artists like Beyonce and Rihanna, with whom she’s worked with. This affords Melina the chance to bring along the vibrancy and style of such, which play ever so cohesively with environmental immersion. She brings along acclaimed cinematographer Tat Radcliffe, who supplants no shortage of eye-catching scenery, as well as precise color coordination to really emit the panic and seduction from each accommodating conversation, but it’s really Mastoukas astonishing shot composition, which steals the show time-and-time again. There are plenty of side one character angles during driving scenes, to establish the facial expressions so inescapably, as well as no shortage of long take camerawork that better helps feel the weight of this cross-country road trip that is anything but easy for our two leads. “Queen and Slim” endears us with a style that is every bit as capturing as the registry from the two convincing performances, and challenged me in ways that very few mainstream releases convincingly do anymore, proving that music video direction can be properly channeled in big screen form if the right commander steers the wheel.
– Heavy themes. Aside from the riveting social commentary of police versus minorities, which is elaborated at unabashedly throughout the film, there are a few stems that grow from such a conflict that bring forth some poignant ideals meant to challenge social media’s coverage of murder on a grand scale. An overwhelming theme in this film is the sense of judging people based on appearances, which goes far beyond the duo’s initial engagement with a police officer, which ends terribly, but also in the eyes of the many people they come into contact with, who each label them in their own demeaning or endearing ways. Also as prominent is the idolizing of murderers, which brings forth irresponsibility in the actions of youths if not addressed properly by mature adults who surround them. The duo find that with each mile passed, their story is appreciated by more people of the same color, which in turn prolongs the killing instead of addressing it where it’s needed to halt the record numbers that it takes everyday. Matsoukas framing seems to hint that both sides play a pivotal hand in the rising tensions, which even in 2019 are still as far away from resolution as ever before, and this responsible hand develops no good or bad guys, but many shades of resounding grey, which make up the prime majority of the world’s opinionated audience with irresponsible news journalism.
– All good things. There’s a raw energy to the film that Matsoukas maintains through a scary surrealism, bringing her leads to life in a way that they nor we truly expected. Throughout the film, we feel the sensationalism of this event, while extremely traumatic, is one that is equally liberating for the duo in a way that allows them to see a side of freedom and life that they otherwise wouldn’t see. In turn, they discover fears and ambitions within each other that they otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to, thanks to Queen alluding that she wouldn’t have called Slim for a second date. It really does stir the proof in the pudding for Slim’s life message of fate dictating over choice, and brings with it such a thought-provoking message of what it means to truly live, which is obviously different when seen through the eyes of anyone’s struggles which confine them.
– Open-minded. I love a film that doesn’t try to sell or shape your opinions in one direction or another, but instead lays all of the facts out at the feet of its audience, and allows them to swing whatever way they see fit. For me, I mentioned earlier that what I took from the film is a mutual conflict between both sides, where improvement is needed mutually. For many others, I can see this going plenty of other ways, and it seems that Melina is fine with such an abstraction, especially considering no direction she supplants to these scenes feels heavy handed or intentional at least. “Queen and Slim” is as good of a roarschach test as any for conversation pieces about important issues plaguing the distancing of our world, and does so with an air of appreciated subtlety that doesn’t condemn you for being one way or another, just that you give it the same chance, instead of the prejudice that has already diminished its returns with police enthusiasts.
– Runtime. At 127 minutes, the film’s length does start to weigh heavily on the pacing, especially before the start of the third act, where repetition starts to limit the movements of a screenplay, which writes itself into a corner far too often. For my money, twenty minutes could easily be shaved off of this film without losing anything of importance to the dynamic of the duo. The only reason to make this over two hours is if you focus on the investigation side of things, which the movie overwhelmingly does not. Everything is kept tightly focused on just the title characters and the people they come into contact with, and it drowns on a bit too long for my taste before I start wondering why these two are taking their time so gingerly.
– Convenient plot devices. There are quite a few of them in this screenplay, and they led to me rolling my eyes for the cliches in cinema that drive me crazy each time they pop up as the years go on. The first is the obvious ‘Keys being left in the car’ trope that is especially idiotic here, considering it happens with a man who does it while leaving strangers he just met in the car with them. Other ones involve money being found in a glove box, a peeling floor that just so happens to be in the bedroom the duo run towards during an ambush, and a cop-assisted escape, which is done with a clumsy level of racial stereotyping the longer you think about what it means in the heat of reality. These unnatural conveniences prolonged this adventure far longer than it had to because the movie needed it to, and highlights one of the only amateur weaknesses of the screenplay, which otherwise feels air tight in articulate consistency.
– Lack of urgency. This is especially prominent during the first two acts, which thanks to an abundance of humor that I mentioned earlier, as well as a total lack of cutaway’s from the focused duo, brings forth a bit more movement from the duo than I would like, especially considering they have a nation of blue practically on their heels at all times. With more chances to see the other side of things, the more the screenplay could’ve teased the tension with a walls closing in around them feeling that is most noticeably missing from a duo carrying the burden of murder. Aside from this, the pacing of the dialogue is a bit too quick for my liking, breezing through pivotal development scenes in a way that doesn’t feel naturally believable, and full of cinematic emulating. This leaves the quality of thinking on the minimal, and instead conjured up several obvious feelings of acting-above-people, which broke my immersion into the film nearly every single time.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-