“Queen & Slim” is a little crime romance drama which follows the footsteps of “Bonny and Clyde” (1967) and many other similar films while also presenting its own mood, ideas, and sensibility. As a foreign audience outside the American society, I only observed its story and characters with mild curiosity and fascination, but I admired its skillful aspects and its interesting exploration of certain social subjects at least, and a number of haunting moments in the film have grown on me since I watched it yesterday.
The movie opens with a plain blind date at a diner located somewhere in Cleveland, Ohio, and we observe the ongoing interaction between two young African American people who happen to meet each other via an online dating application. The young man, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is willing to talk about himself more, but the young woman, played by Jodie Turner-Smith, is not particularly interested in moving onto the next step along with him while sensing how much they are different from each other, and their date is soon ended as he is taking her back to her residence by his car.
And then something unexpected happens to them. Due to a minor mistake during his drive, a police car comes to follow after the young man’s car, and the young man promptly finds himself under that uncomfortable situation which has been quite familiar to many African American males in US for many years. Although the young man does not have anything to hide at all and is ready to follow the police officer’s order for avoiding any unnecessary trouble, the police officer quickly becomes quite hostile and aggressive to the young man due to racial prejudice, and the mood accordingly becomes quite tense when the police officer demands the young man a lot more compliance than expected.
The young woman, who is incidentally a lawyer, understandably becomes agitated and furious about this unjust circumstance, but her following action only adds more tension to the situation, and then she gets shot by the police officer, who is then shot by the young man during the following physical struggle between them. Although the young woman’s injury is not that serious at all, the police officer soon dies due to his fatal wound, and both the young man and the young woman are quickly thrown into panic and dread. Although his killing of the police officer is unintentional, it is quite possible that, just because of his race, he will be incarcerated in prison for the rest of his life even if he surrenders himself to the police right now, and the young woman may also go to jail while labeled as his accomplice.
They promptly decide to run away to New Orleans, Louisiana for getting some help from the young woman’s uncle, who may help them escaping the country in addition to providing them a temporary shelter. Although it turns out that the relationship between the young woman and her uncle is not so friendly to say the least, her uncle does help her and her fellow fugitive a lot nonetheless, and it seems our young runaway couple have a fairly good chance of evading the police and FBI and then leaving the country.
Leisurely following their desperate getaway, the screenplay by Lena Waithe, which is based on the story by her and her co-writer James Fredy, comes to focus more on the gradual relationship development between the young man and the young woman. While there are initially some moments of conflict between them due to their considerable personal difference, they come to bond with each other more as running away from the police together, and we are not so surprised when she later reaches to him for some emotional support and then he actively responds to her.
Meanwhile, as the hunt for them is turned into a big national new, they become sort of folk heroes to many African Americans who have been angry about the frequent police brutality upon them. Most of African Americans they happen to encounter willingly turn a blind eye to them, and there is a little amusing moment when they are asked to pose for a photograph, which subsequently makes them more famous than before.
Of course, the movie eventually arrives at a point where its two lead characters face an inevitable moment of fate, but director Melina Matsoukas, who was mainly known for her award-winning music videos before making this feature film debut of hers, steadily maintains the slow narrative pacing of her film as before, and her crew members including cinematographer Tat Radcliff continue to provide us lyrical visual moments full of sense of place and people. In case of Kaluuya and Turner-Smith, these two talented performers carry the film well together via their compelling duo performance, and a number of supporting performers in the film including Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, and Benito Martinez are also fine in their distinctive supporting parts.
In conclusion, “Queen & Slim” is another notable debut work of last year, and Matsouskas shows us here that she is a good movie director who does know how to engage audiences via mood, storytelling, and performance. Although I must confess that I am not as enthusiastic about it as some other critics, it surely deserves to be compared with its many other predecessors besides “Bonny and Clyde” and “Badlands” (1973), and I will surely revisit it someday for appreciating it more.