VOD film review: Queen & Slim
James R | On 01, Oct 2020
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith
Watch Queen & Slim online in the UK: Netflix UK / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/REnt) / Virgin Movies / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
“I don’t know what the news is saying, but whatever it is, it’s not true.” That’s Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith), after going on the run with Slim (Daniel Kaluuya). Portrayed as killers and fugitives by the media and seen as heroes on the run by others, the truth is somewhere in between, and Queen & Slim brilliantly balances a deceptively thoughtful consideration of identity and impressions with pure genre thrills.
The film starts off flawlessly, with a seemingly innocuous – and undoubtedly doomed – date between the pair. From their barbed exchanges, unsubtle digs at each other and Queen’s barely concealed disapproval of her would-be suitor, it’s immediately clear that a second date isn’t on the cards. But as he drives her home, they find themselves pulled over by a police officer and, after things heat up, Slim winds up shooting the cop with his own gun.
It’s a striking reversal of our expectations, but it’s also nail-bitingly tense, and director Melina Matsoukas doesn’t let up that suspense for the rest of the film’s runtime; we spend most of the opening 20 minutes on edge, and the film doesn’t let us get comfortable from then on. A seemingly helpful lift from a passer-by turns sour, an attempted gas station stick-up almost plays out in reverse, while Uncle Earl’s protection is a double-edged sword.
Lena Waithe’s script is fall of those kind shrewdly observed encounters. When couple end up fleeing from the authorities, it’s not with any grander agenda than to stay alive. The screenplay puts us in the same boat as them, encouraging everyone to empathise with that battle to survive in a country where the colour of their skin has already put the odds against them. While the rest of the public debates whether what they’ve done is justified, we also see the growing number of people rooting for them as outlaws in love.
The pair have a convincing anti-chemistry that becomes more intimate and affectionate, and Matsoukas finds the time to pause and slow down to immerse us in their unlikely love story. But there’s no romanticising their odyssey; even as the situation escalates and builds, every action they take feels grimly unavoidable, which gives a propulsive momentum to the narrative.
Matsoukas has previously impressed at the helm of Issa Rae’s HBO series Insecure, and the director brings an effortless cool to proceedings, with pitch-perfect needle drops matching the stylish visuals. None of this would work, though, without a stellar cast, and Jodie Turner-Smith does an excellently understated job at playing a quietly lonely young woman. Daniel Kaluuya, meanwhile, delivers another superb turn with real star charisma, able to convince as a romantic lead as well as a roguish antihero, while consistently being a sincerely good guy.
Together they sell their fleeting stab at evading capture with heart as well as a horrible inevitability. The result is a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase, one that’s powered by perception, fuelled by fear and steered by the way that other people see them. It’s a confident, riveting ride.
Queen & Slim is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.