Worst first date ever! Queen only went on the date because she had a bad day and didn’t want to be alone. But Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out) was having a decent time anyway. Then on the way home they get pulled over by a racist cop who shoots Queen in the leg when she gets out of the car, and Slim is afraid he might be next, so he wrestles the cop’s gun away from him and shoots him in self-defense. And the couple are suddenly on the wrong side of the law. The whole thing was caught on dash-cam video, so there’s no question what physically happened, but their guilt or innocence is a question of perspective, and once the video goes viral they become folk heroes to the black community. Queen & Slim turns Bonnie and Clyde on its head, with the hunted couple being innocents fleeing a broken justice system. And intertwined with the couple on the run for their lives narrative is a love story that blossoms between the two whose fates become one in a tragic instant.
Slim is a nice guy. He prays before he eats. He’s distraught he can’t call his family to tell them he’s okay. He tried to be respectful when the cop pulled him over. Queen lives up to her name. She’s a defense attorney. She knows the law and was telling the cop what he could and couldn’t do when she was shot. But she also knows that the system is against them, being people of color and having killed a cop, no matter the circumstances. She is initially imperious, but gradually loses her armor with Slim.
Their first stop on their get-away is at Queen’s Uncle Earl’s (Bokeem Woodbine) house in New Orleans. It’s the first time you get a sense of where she came from and the first time you see that the black community is going to take care of the couple as they make their way to safety in Cuba. They get a get-away car and new looks and names of people who will help them along the way. And from there they set off towards their imagined freedom.
It’s impossible to see Queen & Slim without thinking of all the recent stories of police shooting unarmed black people and the way the narratives of those shootings have been warped by the justice system. So it’s easy to see how Queen and Slim would become folk heroes, aided and abetted on their escape. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith (in her first lead role in a feature film) do a great job of slowly developing their on-screen chemistry and letting their characters reveal themselves. I liked this film a lot. It could have probably been a bit shorter. But it’s extremely well directed and shot and the story gives voice to a current gaping hole in American justice. And I’d recommend it to wide audiences.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: I also liked Queen & Slim. It’s a compelling watch from beginning to end. Especially end. Though, as Arty Chick notes, it could have been shorter. Kaluuya is decent as Slim, but Turner-Smith delivers the stronger, more nuanced performance. The film has some shocking, gut-punch moments and an intense sex scene that tries too hard to justify its significance. It competes with some other major goings-on and I found the back and forth to be more distracting than poignant. A minor gripe. Overall, a strong albeit distressing film. -hb]