On the surface this film seems like an excellent idea; because it is. We’ve seen many blockbusters address racism from the obvious angle of slavery but far less approach the topic in the way it is institutionalised, especially where law enforcement is concerned. That coupled with the romantic and adrenaline-filled ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ narrative, Queen & Slim had all the ingredients to be something absolutely riveting. And yet, even after watching the film for a second time in hopes that my first viewing was potentially tainted by a bad mood, all I could feel was disappointment.
The film follows both Queen & Slim played pretty well by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya, on the run after they accidentally murder a white policeman during an unwarranted road stop. Most people might look at their decision to flee as a bit hasty because honestly, the evidence was on their side. But with the relationship black people have with the American judicial system, the fear they both felt was more than enough to rationalise the events that follow. However as the film progresses it becomes apparent that this script did not have much else to say. The protagonists stay on the run driving from one location to another, building this ride or die romance, only to then be killed and turned into some form of martyrs for the black community. The audience is somehow supposed to just believe that they have rallied up the support of the entire black population of the country when the screenplay does absolutely nothing to convey this so-called impact.
In one scene, they meet a boy who tells them that he is happy to die today if it meant that he would be remembered like they are, after which he takes a gun to a peaceful protest along with a photo of them and ends up accidentally shooting a black police officer in a very misdirected attempt at proving a point that wasn’t exactly clear. The boy pulls the trigger on the policeman who had just spent the last few minutes of his life asking this child to go home so he is safe. A boy who also ends up dead himself because obviously, leaving his father (who had fixed Queen & Slim’s car reluctantly) distraught. Now two extra black people are dead, one lost his son and the media had more of a reason to criminalise them. For what? To convey a message about gun laws or just to spice up their journey on the run? Beats me.
Another scene, which I actually liked, shows them trying to escape from a house surrounded by police and are caught by a black officer who lets them go. The officer returns to his station feeling pleased with himself after showing solidarity with their cause. This was a moment of comedic relief after an extremely tense few minutes because in all honesty, we didn’t know what the policeman was going to do, irregardless of his race. Cut to the end of the movie and we see them get caught, meters away from their get-away plane, after being sold out by a black man for the reward money. The entire film was spent attempting to build a narrative in which Queen & Slim are being seen as a cause to protect by their people, only to be sold out by one of their own. A hot-take on the get rich quick mindset of black youth? Haven’t got a clue. The film seemed to dip into every “woke” pond without actually taking the time to commit to and develop a proper narrative.
On the other hand, Queen & Slim is without a doubt the first film I’ve seen that was partially redeemed by the cinematography and direction by Tat Radcliffe and Melina Matsoukas alone. The choice of film stock, the wide shots of the sea with Solange playing in the background, the pace at which their relationship unfolded, the colours and the overall mood set solely by what we see was incredible. In the moments where the screenplay fell absolutely flat, you were at least left with something stunning to look at and any film maker knows how difficult that is to achieve. The soundtrack is also something else worth noting, although misplaced in some places for my taste, the song choices were very well curated to accompany the love story we watched unfold against the impressive sunset backdrops.
Both Jodie and Daniel also do an excellent job in building a deep amount of intimacy between their characters. Even though the script they were given to work with was extremely corny (for lack of a better word) and substance lacking, they both managed to find the characters within and bring them together in a really believable way. Daniel’s use of eye contact and open body language served as a way of creating a safe space for Jodie’s character to completely let her guard down and open up to him. Slim was really well portrayed as wide-eyed, gentle and easy to read which was perfect in disarming a character like Queen who struggled with trust for a lot of reasons the script (again) failed to flesh out.
To put it simply, it was is poorly written. Very many aspects were good and the tools were clearly at their disposable to make this film what it needed to be. But Lena Waithe’s underdeveloped story telling was way too hard to ignore. We spend an awful amount of time watching Earnest and Angela fight their inevitable attraction for one another and then eventually give in with just enough time to enjoy it briefly before they are unnecessarily murdered anyway. The plot was in a big hurry to nowhere which is a shame because a little depth would have taken the entire thing to a new level. This film was okay. But it should have been great.