Queen & Slim

 

starstarstarstar

 


A lyrical road movie registers strongly through its characters, cinematography and attention to detail. 

 
Queen & Slim

Road to nowhere: Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith

 

Only last week, British cinemas witnessed unthinkable racism in Destin Daniel Cretton’s eloquent, true-life drama Just Mercy. Now comes Melina Matsoukas' American road movie that reveals more of the same – and starts under similar circumstances. A black man driving a vehicle is pulled over by police and meets head-on aggression. It has almost become a modern-dray trope. In Just Mercy, the incident occurred in Monroeville county, Alabama; in Queen & Slim, it’s in Monroe county, Ohio. In The Hate U Give, Russell Hornsby instructs his children on how to behave when they are stopped by the cops. In Monsters and Men, John David Washington is pulled over before the opening credits. In black American households, it would seem to be a rights-of-passage.

 

Daniel Kaluuya’s Costco rep Ernest ‘Slim’ Hines knows the routine. He is civil and obedient, but he is also black. When his African-American date, the defence lawyer Angela ‘Queen’ Johnson (Jodie Turner-Smith), intercedes, things get out of hand and the cop shoots her. Then, in the ensuing struggle, Ernest kills the officer in self-defence. It all happens so fast. “You’re a black man who killed a cop and took his gun,” a bleeding Queen points out. Slim responds, “I am not a criminal.” Queen: “You are now.” The only recourse is to get the hell out of town…

 

The film starts brilliantly. After an establishing shot channelling the spirit of Edward Hopper, we see a couple in a diner on a first date, awkwardly navigating their differences. Slim, a teetotal straight arrow, says grace before tucking into his eggs. Queen, who doesn’t believe in God, picks at a salad. These two souls were not meant to be together and their profiles on Tinder have proved to be misleading. But, with the police on their trail, their differences become immaterial.

 

Neither Queen nor Slim are the archetypal lovers-on-the-run beloved by Hollywood. Queen is smart, tall, cultured and beautiful. Slim is less worldly, short, a little rough around the edges and ordinary. And first-time director Melina Matsoukas, working from a script by Lena Waithe, makes them real. Matsoukas, who has directed music videos for Rihanna and Beyoncé, also has a great eye. As the winter chill of Ohio is replaced by the sultry backwaters of the South, the open road takes on a mythical splendour. And as Queen and Slim interact with characters along the way, their bickering blends into harmony. Both the English-born Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are terrific, with the latter, a former model, a particular revelation. If the film lags in parts, the performances, cinematography and atmosphere fill in the gaps nicely.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore, Benito Martinez, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Melanie Halfkenny, Thom Gossom Jr.

 

Dir Melina Matsoukas, Pro Lena Waithe, Melina Matsoukas, Michelle Knudsen, Andrew Coles, Brad Weston and Pamela Abdy, Screenplay Lena Waithe, from a story by James Frey and Lena Waithe, Ph Tat Radcliffe, Pro Des Karen Murphy, Ed Pete Beaudreau, Music Devonté Hynes, Costumes Shiona Turini, Dialect coach Joel Trill.

 

3BlackDot/Bron Creative/Makeready/De La Revolución Films/Hillman Grad Productions-Entertainment One.

131 mins. USA/Canada. 2019. Rel: 31 January 2020. Cert. 15.