Review by Sophie Furlong Tighe
Queen & Slim opens on a familiar but incredibly modern scene: two people on a tinder date. It’s awkward and stilted like many first interactions. Immediately we see the difference between the two characters; Queen (Jodie-Turner Smith) feeling uncomfortable in the dingy diner Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) takes her to, Slim awkwardly picking food from the meal she finds unappetizing. Despite the actors obvious chemistry, the relationship doesn’t look particularly promising. While driving Queen home, Slim gets pulled over for swerving. After an excruciatingly long interaction with a police officer which turns violent, he kills the officer in self-defense.
This all happens within the first twenty minutes of Queen & Slim. The rest of it is a road trip, a romance, a chase, and always a thoughtful mediation on race in America. Over two hours of getting to know the two of them, it is difficult not to root for their escape. The incredible shots of the roads they drive down often make the characters – and the audience – forget the stakes of the situation.
There are plenty of intense moments of action during the film. But it is the moments that come before the gunshots which make this film so impressive. Melina Matsoukas directs so that you can not look away from even the most mundane of interactions. The most difficult parts to watch aren’t the bullets fired, but the ten minutes of questions and the slowly agitating officer. The entire audience knows it became a possibly deadly event as soon as the officer appeared. Matsoukas does this to keep us watching, and create a palpable discomfort.
Bubbling beneath the surface of Queen & Slim is the broad shadow of America. One man is killed in self-defense, and an unprecedented national search is immediately underway. There is a five hundred thousand dollar reward for Queen and Slim. While the government is rarely mentioned, it is impossible to forget the systems behind the individual police officers who are willing to dedicate this amount of time and money to the capture of two people who are little more than victims of this system. The film points its audience to this subtly, but very powerfully in the couples interactions with white people. Alternately, we see the impact that their escape has on activism around America: pictures of them are held up at rallies and people march in their names.
It’s conflicting, in that they never could have been together without the tragedy that has doomed them.
Yet around all of this, is a tender and believable relationship that is developed in the most difficult circumstances. When they dance together, we forget the first awkward interaction they share. When they hold each other, that initial encounter burns in our minds, and we see how far they have come. It’s conflicting, in that they never could have been together without the tragedy that has doomed them.
This film is about everything and everyone in the world. It’s always nuanced, and never dull. In one moment it’s satire, in another it’s hyperreal tragedy, and at its best, it is a question of what it means to love under persecution.
Queen and Slim opens in Ireland on 31 January.