TL;DR – It is a provocative and powerful film, while it does not hit every note right, when it excels it does so with gusto
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Some films are just there to provide a little entertainment and then to be done and there is nothing wrong with that because everyone needs a little fun in their lives. However, other films want to be provocative, some films that want to educate, some films that want to hold a mirror up to society, and some that want to all of that and more.
So to set the scene, we open in a diner in Ohio as two people start the awkward banter of getting to know each other. Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) is interested to know why Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) picked tonight to respond to his Tinder request after leaving it on hold for weeks, well Queen just didn’t want to be alone that night. After dinner Slim is taking Queen home when they are pulled over by police Officer Reed (Sturgill Simpson) for a very minor traffic infraction. While the officer is checking the car for drugs (which are not there nor was there any reason to believe there was) Queen, a defence attorney gets out of the car and the officer shoots her in her leg. A scuffle ensues and Slim in self-defence shoots the officer in the head killing him. What do you do? Do you stay and try to explain what happens, or do you run? You run!
There is a lot to unpack with this film, and the first thing I want to talk about is its use of tension. The big turning point at the start of the film is the gunshot, so everything is building up to that point. It does this by exploring tension, in all its different forms. We start with the awkward banter between two people who have different likes and wants in life. You see it in their posture, in what they eat, in how they answer questions. It is the kind of tension that is instantly relatable as we have all seen it or been there before, and it pulls you into their lives. Then on the drive home, the film uses this dissonant framing of the pair that puts the audience off-balance. As this builds, it means that you are already a bit unsettled even before the lights and sirens ring out into the night. It is here where every movement, every sound becomes a threat, as you know where it is going to land.
As the car drives off into the night, one of the core strengths of the film is that driving away from the scene are two people who don’t know each other all that well and have now been thrust together. Because they don’t know each other, there is no history they can call on to smooth things over and they have to take on the escape and treats from the outside while not yet trusting each other. This dynamic works because both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith commit fully to their roles. They are captivating from the moment they appear on the screen and that continues until the final frame. They help both literally and metaphorically drive the film and you want to see them achieve their goals.
From a production side of things, everything in this film is beautifully framed, sometimes it is to be offsetting, sometimes it is to hide things, and other times it is bringing something into the light. I liked how the light was used to show peoples mood, like hiding in a crowd to have that one dance, or coming electric when you pose with the one you care about. It helps give another layer to a film that is sometimes all about subtly and other times not so much. This is a film that is completely holding up a mirror to society because they should not have needed to run. After all, it was self-defence, there is even video evidence to prove it, however, the moment they run you know they made the right choice. It goes to the very core of society and that is what makes this film so powerful.
Where the film does not always quite land is in its narrative structure but to explore that we do need to engage with some moments that happen at the end of the film, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. In many ways I think you know the outcome of this film form the moment it starts, indeed the film goes out of its way to name-check Bonnie and Clyde right at the start, though Thelma & Louise might be the closer touchstone. That means that towards the end when we get a couple of false endings it does start to get a little frustrating. Also, there is one particular scene where a riot is intercut with a sex scene, where for me the constant interplay between the two crosses a line where it is actually unhelpful.
In the end, do we recommend Queen and Slim? Yes, we do. It is a powerful film made better by two amazing performances that I think should have been on more people’s radar at awards time. It is telling a story that you need to here right now to understand a world you might not know about or understand. It is a film full of power, of moments of joy, but also a deep sadness. If you liked Queen and Slim, we would also recommend The Hate U Give and When They See Us.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Queen and Slim
Directed by – Melina Matsoukas
Story by – James Frey & Lena Waithe
Screenplay by – Lena Waithe
Music by – Devonté Hynes
Cinematography by – Tat Radcliffe
Edited by – Pete Beaudreau
Production/Distribution Companies – 3BlackDot, Bron Creative, Makeready, De La Revolución Films, Hillman Grad Productions & Universal Pictures
Starring – Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore, Benito Martinez, Jahi Di’Allo Winston, Gralen Bryant Banks, Dickson Obahor, Bryant Tardy, Thom Gossom Jr. & Melanie Halfkenny
Rating – Australia: MA15+; Canada: 14A; Germany: 12; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: 15; United States: R