QUEEN & SLIM is a powerful and moving film - at turns hilarious and unbearably tense. It stars Daniel Kaluuya (GET OUT) and Jodie Turner-Smith as a young black couple who go out on a tinder date. He drives her home, a cop pulls them over, she tries to assert their rights (being an attorney) and ends up being shot. He kills the cop in self-defense. This is all done in the first fifteen or so minutes. The tonal shift is beautifully handled. We go from a beautifully observed first date between an odd couple so ill-matched that they barely occupy the same frame, to a moment of violence that's genuinely frightening. We've all seen the video footage of real life policy brutality and racism. But in that slow build-up to the shooting I had a glimpse, for just a nanosecond, of what it must feel like to be pulled over as a black man. It was terrifying and deeply affecting.
The rest of the film is a road movie, beautifully shot by cinematographer Tat Radcliffe. The south has never looked so empty and so vivid and so gorgeous. They visit with her uncle, hilariously played by Bokeem Woodbine (TV's FARGO), in a role that rises above absurdist pimp and hustler. We learn that he was deeply fucked up by Iraq and that their family history is deeply scarred. I also love the cameo role from Indya Moore (POSE) - who with barely a look can steer her supposedly macho lover into doing the right thing. It's quite the demonstration of power.
Their journey continues. On the way we'll get one of the most sensuous joyous road-house scenes since Lynch - and it's worth saying that the music in this film is brilliantly chosen and even allows an hilarious Fat vs Skinny Luther Vandross debate.
We also get to see both sides of the argument. Screenwriters Lena Waithe and the notorious James Frey show us the true cost of being runaway heroes - the danger of inspiring young black kids to stand up to violence - that violence begets violence -and somehow in a world where there are black cops too, it always seem to be black people who end up dead.
The screenwriters also pose provocative questions. Should we really make an analogy between Queen and Slim and Bonnie and Clyde? The movie does - riffing on the iconography of that movie - and in a meta way the kids in the film do too. But Bonnie and Clyde were genuine criminals. Queen and Slim are law-abiding citizens in a world where the law has been made corrupt and racist. They are criminals because they are black.
Another provocation is who we should trust. There's a fantastic scene in a supposed safe house owned by Flea and Chloe Sevigny. He wants to help them. She is more reluctant. Should we believe that she is tempted by the bounty on their heads? I love the ambiguity that the screenwriters are willing to make us endure. We never know why the husband and wife are so well set up for smuggling. Or why the husband has a preternatural sensitivity to seeing the shadows of a SWAT team on his dining room wall. I almost wish that the screenwriters had left the question of whom to trust open at the end.
Overall, QUEEN & SLIM is a truly intelligent and beautifully handled film. Kudos to first-time feature film director Melina Matsoukas and to Lena Waithe and James Frey for their nuanced and challenging script. But most of all, kudos to Daniel Kaluuya, who goes from puppy-dog naivety and goodness to something wiser, tougher, and more fulfilled. It's an astonishing performance. First time feature actor Jodie Turner-Smith holds her own too. But it's Kaluuya, and Woodbine in support, who really deserved the award-season recognition and I'm saddened this film hasn't received the marketing push to facilitate that.
QUEEN & SLIM has a running time of 132 minutes and is rated R. The film was released in the USA last November and will be released in the UK on January 31st 2020.