Slim and Queen's first date takes an unexpected turn when a policeman pulls them over for a minor traffic violation. When the situation escalates, Slim takes the officer's gun and shoots him in self-defence. Now labelled cop killers in the media, Slim and Queen feel that they have no choice but to go on the run and evade the law. When a video of the incident goes viral, the unwitting outlaws soon become a symbol of trauma, terror, grief and pain for people all across the countryWritten by
According to the writer, the divergent world views of the two protagonists were based on the differences between Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. See more »
When hiding under the floor-boards the police search the room flipping the mattress to check under the bed. The following morning when leaving the hiding space under the floor-boards, the bed is made, whilst the home owners had been detained. See more »
A powerful socio-political statement disguised as a road-movie
White police officers killing black men is something we've seen much of in recent years, and it's been represented in films such as Fruitvale Station (2013); The Hate U Give (2018), Monsters and Men (2018); and Widows (2018). And to that list you can now add Queen & Slim, albeit with an asterisk, because here, it's a black man killing a white police officer. But, and this is a key point, he does so only in self-defence. Embracing the notion that Black Lives very much Matter, the film is something of a stealth social commentary insofar as it wears the disguise of the classic genre template of a duo on the run à la films such as They Live by Night (1948), Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Badlands (1973), and Thelma & Louise (1991). And it works perfectly well as a taut road-movie. However, underneath the genre elements, you'll find a condemnation of a criminal justice system that seemingly targets minorities, a celebration of black unity and cultural vibrancy, and an examination of Trump's divided America. It's not an angry diatribe per se, certainly not in the sense that some of Spike Lee's films are, but it does attempt to Speak Truth to Power and it is fundamentally of the moment. It also happens to be a very fine film, albeit a little too long and with some tonal inconsistencies.
Queen (a superb debut performance by model Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (a brilliant Daniel Kaluuya) are on a date, having met on Tinder. However, things are not going especially well, as they quickly discover they have virtually nothing in common. He works at Costco, is a devout Christian, and wants a family; she's an atheistic defence attorney with no filter for her often acerbic comments, and has no interest in raising a family. As he drives her home, they're pulled over by Officer Reed (Sturgill Simpson), who is unnecessarily threatening and belligerent from the start. When draws his weapon and orders Slim to the ground, Queen attempts to record what's happening, but Reed shoots her in the leg. Slim then tackles Reed, gets his gun, and kills him. Slim wants to remain at the scene, but Queen points out that a black man has just shot a white cop with his own gun, and if they stay, the best they can hope for is prison. And so the duo find themselves on the lam, with Slim concocting a vague plan to head south from Ohio to Miami, and ultimately on to Cuba. Meanwhile, mostly without their knowledge, they become the symbol for and inspiration behind a nationwide protest movement against racially-motivated police violence.
Queen & Slim is written by Lena Waithe, from a story by Waithe and James Frey (yep, that James Frey), and is directed by Melina Matsoukas in her feature directorial debut. Although at a structural level, Queen & Slim is a classic duo on the run film, at a thematic level it focuses on socio-political issues such as ethnic tension, systemic racism, unchecked police violence, communal anger, and both the importance and danger of protest movements (it's telling that the film doesn't paint every protestor as a paragon of virtue). Concerning this, a key point is that the film doesn't try to be a piece of social realism. On their journey from Ohio to Miami, Queen and Slim encounter a litany of black characters, all of whom know exactly who they are, all of whom approve of what they did and treat them like folk heroes (except a mechanic (Gralen Bryant Banks) who's unimpressed with their actions). This isn't done to suggest that black identity in the US is monolithic, rather it's to make an allegorical point; it's a reference to a "them and us" mentality. This allegorical sense is heightened further with references to slave catchers, chain gangs, and the Underground Railroad.
Aside from this, the other major theme is the notion of legacy. This is tied into the fact that Queen and Slim are symbols for a nationwide movement. The fact that they don't see themselves as symbols, doesn't matter to the people who mythologise them. When Slim kills Reed, he and Queen flee because they assume they won't get a fair trial in a country that sees race before all else (and remember, she's a lawyer). And this assumption is what forms the basis of the movement built in their name, with black people shown as exasperated by such treatment. In such a dangerously volatile milieu, Queen and Slim provide the spark that sets the tinderbox aflame.
Looking at the aesthetic side of things, Waithe's screenplay does a good job of telling us who Queen and Slim are from the get-go, taking only a few moments during the opening scene to set up many of the characteristics that will prove important later (his faith, for example, or her acerbity). And because the scene is a first date, the dialogue can introduce such getting-to-know-you material without it seeming expositionary or inorganic. The acting is also terrific. Turner-Smith, in her first feature film role, plays Queen as the realist to Slim's idealist, someone who has sacrificed much to achieve success and who, although she hides it, is deeply lonely. Kaluuya plays Slim as an eternal optimist, someone who trusts others, but is also borderline naïve, in a performance that's the complete inverse of the intimidating enforcer he played in Widows.
There are some problems though. For example, on a few occasions, the movie inexplicably starts using voiceover. But not normal voiceover. Two characters will be shown having a normal conversation and then some of the dialogue is delivered as VO, only for the normal conversation to resume again. If it was confined to Queen and Slim, I might think it was a poorly-conceived attempt to draw us into their psyche, but it isn't. So, I honestly don't know what the point is, but it sure is distracting and seems to come from a different film entirely. Some scenes are also just too fanciful; such as a scene where the duo stop so Slim can ride a horse or a bizarre scene with a gas station clerk, which (I think) is supposed to be comic relief, but which is just too tonally divorced from everything else. Another poorly conceived scene, sees Matsoukas cut to Slim's father (Thom Gossom Jr.) to show us that the police are monitoring his phone. It's an entirely unnecessary scene, and it breaks the rigidly maintained focalisation, which up to this point has been entirely confined to Queen and Slim. The film also runs about 15 minutes too long, with several fake-out endings, and in its final moments, it veers very close to melodrama.
These issues notwithstanding, however, this is a strong film that works on several levels. On the one hand, it's a decent duo-on-the-run story; on the other, it's a film tuned into the socio-political frequency of the times. A snapshot of a house divided against itself, it paints a bleak picture of a group that has been pushed and prodded to the point where combustion may be unavoidable. 31% of Americans believe that a second Civil War will happen within their lifetime, and it will almost certainly be race-related. Queen & Slim suggests they might just be correct.
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