QUEEN & SLIM

People on the run from the law; what a classic concept. Nothing quite says high stakes and suspense like the police being on your tail, wanting to arrest or kill you at every turn. Want to make it more interesting? Then make them a romantic couple! You don’t only get tension from the situation, but also from the developments in their relationship. Bonnie and Clyde are definitely the most famous example of a criminal couple in love, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other unions out there who could fall into the same predicament. 
 
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are on a first date, which doesn’t really go all that smoothly due to their different personalities. As Slim drives Queen home, he’s pulled over and harassed by an aggressive police officer. When the officer pulls his gun on Slim and then shoots Queen as she’s reaching for her cell phone, Slim attacks back in self-defense, shooting the cop dead. Realizing they certainly face prison time if caught, Queen & Slim go on a cross country drive to escape the country, as well as the authorities. Above all, though, they begin to fall in love.
 
Queen & Slim is a very old school premise of a criminal couple on the run, with them comprising their morals and getting dirtier as the stakes get higher. This time, there’s a modern racial twist in regards to black American’s relationship with the police and all of the politics surrounding it. The thing is, Queen and Slim aren’t bad people. Slim kills the police officer in self-defense and they avoid hurting people whenever they can. That doesn’t mean that their actions don’t inspire others to hurt people, though, as they inspire protests and riots across the country. Before that fateful night, they were just regular people who nobody really gave a damn about, but now they’re legends. Even if they end up dead, their legacy and message will live on. It’s all pretty heavy handed, with some superfluous scenes that hit you square in the face with their bluntness, but there’s also not really a clear point that director Melina Matsoukas and screenwriter Lena Waithe are trying to make. It’s really just a story about two lovers on the run and I don’t really know the larger point it’s trying to make other than black Americans have poor relations with the police. 
 
The opening scene where Queen and Slim have their date at an Ohio diner is very long, but well paced in that it gives you a great sense of both characters and their personalities. It’s a perfect way to lull you into a false sense of security until it all goes down when Slim gets pulled over. After he kills the cop, he and Queen are on the run to Florida so they can flee to Cuba, stopping at various places for help along the way. It’s a suspenseful journey as the stakes get raised by the constant obstacles in the way, but it eventually gets repetitive, especially with all of the coincidence involved. Queen and Slim run out of gas and have to flag down a passerby. Uh oh! Turns out he’s a sheriff. Slim goes into a gas station and uh oh, again! There’s a newspaper right there with their faces on it. I mean, it all makes sense in the context of the story, but everything is just far too coincidental and convenient, even if sometimes does make a larger point. The repetition makes the convenience grow more and more tired, but the tension is still palpable. Unfortunately, it’s all quite predictable, so it does deflate in the third act and lose a lot of energy from before. 
 
This is Melina Matsoukas’ feature film debut and she’s incredibly strong at building atmosphere and tone, while making it all visually striking and tense. There were many scenes that had me clenching my fists in suspense, especially their entire encounter with the cop. This also has the best use of opening titles I’ve seen all year, with Queen and Slim frantically arguing about what to do next after killing the officer, with only their audio being played over black screen and text. It immediately fills you with dread and puts you into their mindset. The structure and pace may feel a bit stop and go, but the shot composition, lighting, and atmosphere constantly kept me on edge. There’s a lot of striking use of color, which gives the environments the couple go through with so much life. I was rooting for Queen and Slim the whole time, and even their predicaments often came from happenstance, it was thrilling to watch them wiggle theirselves out of any situation. They are both pretty dumb at times, though, but that plays into the fact that they’re not experienced criminals and under constant pressure of getting arrested or killed. 
 
A movie that’s about a romantic pair of robbers requires a genuine romance, and both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding. Kaluuya is one of my favorite actors working today and you clearly see him shedding his meek and mild persona to become a true outlaw, down to getting a “tough guy” picture taken of them to preserve their legacy. Jodie Turner-Smith is just as excellent and even though she doesn’t take kindly to Slim at first, you can sense the genuine appreciation and love that builds up inside her. They don’t quite warm up to each other at first, especially with their different personalities and points of view, but when they’re all they have, they’re all they have. Killing the cop put them past the point of no return, so they have no choice but to stay together and run off. Even then, this necessity does turn into something genuine, with a sex scene that doesn’t feel gratuitous, but is actually beautifully shot, especially with how it’s edited to contrast with a riot scene. 
 
Queen & Slim does have some issues in the script department in regards to structure, pacing, and clear, consistent themes, but it’s a fantastic example of how strong direction and terrific performances can make up for that. The story may have been too convenient and predictable, but the atmosphere and suspense never really lets up. Couple that with stellar lead performances with genuine nuance and chemistry, and you have a tale of a couple on the lamb that’s very much worth experiencing. 
 
7/10 

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