It started like any other night for two young African-Americans in Ohio. They went to a diner for a first date. The young woman didn’t want to be alone that particular night, so she turns to Tinder. They make small talk about each other and they each send mixed signals about whether or not there would be a second date. On the way back from the diner, the young man gets stopped by a cop for a minor traffic violation. Being an African-American stopped by a white police officer in 2019, the stop escalates to a boiling point and the young man gets physical, eventually shooting the police officer in the throat.
This traffic stop sets off a chain of events for the young couple in Queen & Slim, which was marketed as a modern day take on the well known Bonnie and Clyde story—but it is so much more than that. It plays around with different genres throughout its run time. There’s romance, there’s drama, there’s crime, there’s even a little bit of comedy. But most importantly, it’s relevant. A film this ambitious could’ve gone wrong very easily, but the script and direction are stylish and allow for smaller, more human moments to play out.
For example, the names of the couple are not disclosed until a news report at the end of the movie. People don’t even refer to the young couple as “Queen” or “Slim,” like the title would suggest. Any news report that was heard in the movie would just give descriptions of the two without any names. The only hint at a name we get before the ending is when Queen stops at a cemetery to pay respects to her mother. Another small scene shows Queen having Slim stop the car to look at some horses. In the hands of anyone else, these little details and scenes would’ve been left on the cutting room floor. But here, it’s left in so their characters could be more developed.
Daniel Kaluuya and newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith have excellent chemistry with each other right from the opening scene at the diner. They would have to have good chemistry with each other in order for this story to work, since most of the time it’s just the two of them in a car. Turner-Smith was my favorite performance of the two, feeling very natural and in control given the circumstances. Director Melina Matsoukas built a career from directing music videos and found the courage to bring this story to life with her first feature film. Also worth highlighting is writer Lena Waithe, who some people may recognize for her part on the Netflix series Master of None. She shares a story credit with controversial novelist James Frey.
The film isn’t totally flawless, however. At 132 minutes, it does get slow in some parts. I found myself checking my watch quite a bit towards the third act. Some of the editing choices I also found to be a bit odd, starting out with some characters talking before transitioning to voice-overs and going back to showing them talk. Maybe they were trying to be a bit artsy with the style but that back and forth was a little distracting.
If there is a Bonnie and Clyde story this compares to, I would be thinking more of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. That movie, much like Queen & Slim, had a distinct style and also blamed the media for glorifying a criminal couple to the point where riots ensued. Queen & Slim is more subtle than Oliver Stone’s movie, however, and this is in part to more nuanced performances from Kaluuya and Turner-Smith. Some people may avoid it because of how it paints police officers, but they’re missing out on one hell of a movie.