Queen & Slim Review: Legacy and love triumph in this stunning thrill ride
Teaming up with Emmy winning writer Lena Waithe, director Melina Matsoukas creates an enthralling and fulfilling experience of life on the run from the law and delves into the love that comes from it and the legacy it leaves behind.
The film follows the events of a young black man and woman, who I’m just going to refer to as Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya), after their first date doesn’t go as planned. After being pulled over by a police officer and some moments of tension between Queen and the cop, Slim eventually finds himself on the bad end of the officer’s gun as tensions boil over. A fight between Slim and the officer ensues after Queen is “accidently” grazed in the leg by a stray bullet and it all ends with Slim fatally shooting the officer in self-defense. Now labeled as cop-killers, the two must evade the watchful eyes of the police as they use any resources, they come across to escape.
Now, on the surface-level, Queen & Slim can just seem like another film delving into the issues of police brutality and the waves of anger and outcry it creates within the black community – but, that’s not fully the case. Sure, the film delves into the targeting of black people by police officers and the anger and rebellion that it’s caused within the U.S. However, a lot of that is played more into the background of Queen & Slim’s journey and is told through newscasts and audio that can be heard into the background – which I was really into. From going over the officer’s background with racial issues and as well as the reactions of what happened with Queen and Slim, there’s a strong story being told about racial tensions without it ever feeling like it’s in your face. Instead, it ends up being a perfect companion to the film’s main story about legacy.
Throughout their journey, Queen and Slim slowly become folk heroes among the black community and Queen’s Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) even refers to them as the “black Bonnie and Clyde.” Without initially realizing the impact of their fatal encounter with the law, the two slowly start to see how the world sees them – both as heroes and villains. While the police and media are hot on their tail to take them down and portray them as hardened criminals on the run, even though that isn’t the case, they also find adoration from the black community and see that they’re even seen as heroes for standing against the police. With these viewpoints being so strong and so opposite of one another, the film opens up about the idea of legacy and whether or not it’s in our own hands. From how the media portrays them to the actions people take against the police, there’s a lot of moments that make Queen and Slim question the legacy that they not only want to leave behind for those that knew them before all of this, but also those that don’t. It’s such a complex situation that pulls out all the stops and leaves you thinking about everything that unfolds – especially between Queen and Slim romantically.
The arc of Queen and Slim’s slow-building romance is one of the most endearing and genuine things about the film and will instantly have viewer’s hearts. At first, it doesn’t seem as if there’s much romance to be had with Queen’s more rigid personality and Slim’s more laid-back demeanor. However, as they begin to learn more about one another and open up, you start to see that there’s some genuine love between them that develops from a personal connection rather than just the situation they’re in. All of this is elevated through the very personal and touching performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith as they create two characters that make impossible not to want to get along and ride with. Even through all of the chaos and hardships they ensue throughout their journey, the film always gives them moments just to open up and it create a more worthwhile and enjoyable experience as a viewer. As for their legacy, it’s both tragically fitting and emotional and leaves a strong mark on its viewers. Waithe delivers some of the strongest writing I’ve seen this year alongside fellow writer James Frey, and it’s all brought to life through Matsoukas’ stunning direction and camera work.
Even though this is Matsoukas’ first time directing a feature film, it never really shows because of how strong she is in creating a unique experience. Whether it’s just Queen and Slim simply talking about things while driving down a long stretch of road or narrowly evading nearby officers, she carries the same level of confidence and camera work that evokes both the chill and comforting vibes of a road-trip as well as the tension of being on the run that leaves you with sweaty palms. There’re even some moments that are perfectly in line with the Bonnie and Clyde vibes the film leaves and there’re some scenes and images, like Queen and Slim taking their legacy photo together, that are instantly iconic. Not to mention, the film’s cinematography from Tat Radcliffe is stunning and you’ve never seen the Deep South like this in film and the music choices help the film’s pace, which can drag at times, and builds on the atmosphere of scenes they’re associated with.
Queen & Slim has the intense thrills and incredible performances to be award-worthy but is elevated even further through its meaningful story about legacy and Matsoukas’s great direction that’s one of the best debuts I’ve seen this year. It’s a definite must-see and is so strong and powerful in the talent it boasts that it looks to have the same kind of promising legacy as its titular characters.