Queen & Slim

After surviving a police stop that goes disastrously wrong, a couple hits the road

3

Criminal lovers on the run will always find safe refuge on American movie screens, where directors as diverse as Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde), Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express) and Terrence Malick (Badlands) all had major breakouts with the subgenre. Now the Bronx-born Melina Matsoukas, a visually gifted filmmaker best known for Beyoncé’s Formation video, joins their company with this atmospheric, impressively serious feature debut, one that only falters via some boneheaded plot choices (the story and screenplay are by James Frey and Lena Waithe).

Playing characters that are unnamed throughout the movie, Jodie Turner-Smith and Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya find themselves pulled over, post-first date, by a virulently racist cop. One gun struggle later, the pair is barrelling out of town, uncertain of what to do.

Investing their roles with a sombre thoughtfulness, the leads do exquisite work, even when the situation pushes them toward bad decisions or stereotypes (in one particularly inspired costume choice, the outlaws don trashy clothes provided by a relative, a track suit and a miniskirt, and they cringe just as much as we do, trapped in a media narrative they can’t control).

A socially angry film, Queen & Slim strikes intentional resonances with the 2014 racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, making no apology for its antiheroes’ behaviour, a stance that’s invigorating.

But for every Thelma & Louise–like golden-hour drive into the sunset (there are several too many), you wish the movie also had the sophistication to cram from that classic script’s complex sense of injustice, one that had room for a subplot involving a sympathetic lawman. Believe in Matsoukas, though; she’s the real deal and she’ll get better material.

Newsletters

Follow us