Comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde may be inevitable, but even with its faults Queen & Slim stands on its own. It’s sure to provoke an emotional response, especially from African American audiences. The film reflects a seething anger borne of police shootings we’ve all witnessed or read about—although we always root for the anti-heroes in a story about lovers on the lam, regardless of race.
The movie opens simply enough, with two unnamed characters having dinner in a Cleveland coffee shop. This is their first date and they struggle to make conversation. She (newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) is an attorney whose client has just received the death penalty. He (Daniel Kaluuya, from Get Out) works at a Costco store and drives a car bearing the license plate TRUSTGOD.
Minutes later they are pulled over for a minor traffic violation by a truculent cop. The encounter suddenly turns violent, leaving the officer dead in the street. The panicked couple weighs its options and decides to run. Meanwhile, dashboard video of the incident is broadcast and turns these near-strangers into high-profile fugitives.
Queen & Slim marks the feature-film debut for director Melina Matsoukas, who has made her mark with music videos (for the likes of Beyoncé), commercials, and episodic TV. Not surprisingly, her film is extremely stylish and, not incidentally, shot on film. Working from a screenplay by Lena Waithe and James Frey, Matsoukas invites us to build our own relationship with the leading characters during their odyssey from Cleveland to the deep South.
A road movie in the truest sense, every stop along the way brings surprises and discoveries. Logic is not always in evidence; some vignettes seem incongruous, as if the unwitting outlaws aren’t fleeing for their lives. But as we get to know them better and they achieve an unplanned intimacy we care more and more about what lies in store for them.
I didn’t think I would grow attached to this disparate couple, but both Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are charismatic and the film serves them well. The end may be inevitable to anyone familiar with lovers-on-the-lam stories but it still packs a punch. To a new generation of moviegoers this may become a touchstone, as They Live by Night, Thieves Like Us, and Bonnie and Clyde spoke to audiences of their time.