In QUEEN & SLIM (2019), the two main characters are referred to once in the movie as “the black Bonnie & Clyde.” This really isn’t accurate. Bonnie & Clyde were criminals with a violent agenda. The two main characters here have no agenda. They just happened to shoot a cop in self-defense.
When they go on the run, they find themselves unexpectedly with a following, as people see their action against an aggressive white police officer as justified and necessary, and worthy of both applause and protection.
The strongest part about QUEEN & SLIM is what it says about society in the here and now, that folks are so distraught and afraid of police brutality, they find themselves rallying around folks like the two main characters in the movie. This part of the movie resonates throughout. Black Lives Matter is a real movement, and this movie taps into those emotions.
On the other hand, since the two main characters really just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, their story, in terms of dramatic impact, the longer it goes on, doesn’t work as well, and the film struggles to reach its final reel with the same edge with which it began.
Another reason the drama diminishes is the two characters aren’t interested really in the movement they’ve created. They were just out on a date. Their story arc has less to do with societal matters and much more to do with simple survival, and the fact that they find themselves liking each other a lot, so much so, that by film’s end, they’ve fallen in love.
In a way, QUEEN & SLIM is much more a love story than it is a crime story, although you can’t really take the crime out of the plot. Without it, the date ends, and Queen and Slim probably don’t see each other again.
QUEEN & SLIM opens on a first date between Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) at a restaurant in one of the film’s best written scenes. Indeed, based on the writing alone, the movie gets off to a strong start.
On the car ride after the date, the couple gets pulled over by a very aggressive white police officer who we learn later shot a black man and was found innocent of any wrongdoing. This officer eventually pulls a gun on Slim and shoots Queen in the leg. In the ensuing scuffle, Slim shoots the officer. Dead.
Not knowing what to do next, the couple just decides to drive away, and they pretty much make things up as they go along. The rest of the movie follows their efforts to elude a nationwide manhunt. While doing so, they fall in love. They eventually decide to flee to Cuba, and to get there, they receive lots of help from folks who see them as heroes.
I liked QUEEN AND SLIM for the most part, and I definitely enjoyed the first half better than the second. The plight of these two characters, who didn’t ask to be in the situation they find themselves in, simply isn’t strong enough to carry an entire movie.
It ultimately is a very sad story. It’s also quite maddening. Right after Slim shoots the officer, his first inclination is to stay there and call the police, to do the right thing. But Queen tells him if he does that, he won’t survive the night. This advice generally makes no sense. However, in this case, could anyone argue that Queen is wrong?
And that’s the best part of the screenplay by Lena Waithe. It taps into real racial tensions that are prevalent throughout the film. It also boasts really good dialogue, especially between the two main players.
I really enjoyed the two leads, Daniel Kaluuya as Slim and Jodie Turner-Smith as Queen. Kaluuya was excellent in GET OUT (2017). I think his performance stood out more in that film, but he’s nearly as good here.
Jody Turner-Smith delivers a potent performance at Queen. Her character has a devastating back story, and Turner-Smith captures the brokenness of the character. She and Kaluuya work well together and share some strong chemistry. One of the best scenes in the movie is when he takes her dancing at a local club. Sparks fly between them.
Bokeem Woodbine has a field day as Queen’s Uncle Earl. He enjoys some of the liveliest bits in the movie.
Director Melina Matsoukas keeps the film riveting early on, but towards the end things slow down a bit. There are some really impressive sequences, from the initial tense traffic stop with the combative cop, to the aforementioned dance scene, to the sequence where a community marches against the police in protest, to the sequence where Queen and Slim have to jump from a very high second story window.
But things do slow down towards the end, mostly because Queen and Slim aren’t really protagonists. Instead, they react to events around them, as they lay low from the authorities while trying to escape to Cuba.
As QUEEN & SLIM moves towards its inevitable conclusion, things become sadder and more tragic, but they also become slower and less compelling. Don’t expect shoot-outs from characters who suddenly embrace violence to get their message across.
The only thing Queen and Slim are interested in embracing is each other, which is highly commendable, but not exactly a gold mine for riveting storytelling.