Film review: ‘QUEEN AND SLIM’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

The touching and highly relevant romantic crime drama Queen and Slim reworks the Thelma and Louise ‘couple on the run’ story to incorporate the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

In a scenario that could have been plucked from recent headlines, Tinder dating African American couple, defence attourney, Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and the unassuming Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are pulled over while driving home and harassed by a particularly unpleasant white cop (country singer Sturgill Simpson). When the situation gets out of hand and turns violent, the couple suddenly find themselves on the run for murdering a police officer. Fearing there’s no hope of a fair trial, the two decide to flee south to Florida.

Their flight becomes an intriguing odyssey through the American South as they encounter an assortment of oddball characters including Queen’s highly questionable uncle played by the great Bookeem Wodbine who was so brilliant in the TV series of Fargo, a teen who’s a little too impressed by the couple’s actions, an hilarious foul-mouthed father whom they accidentally run over and a taciturn and religious couple played by Chloe Sevigny and Flea. It’s also a journey into African American history, culture and contemporary fears as the Queen and Slim witness the legacy of a troubled past in crime and poverty-stricken neighbourhoods, draw closer to each other through the soulful strains of Luther Vandross, imbibe some fine electric blues and receive unexpected support from black Americans who see them as having stood up to a constantly threatening white authority.

The film shifts seamlessly between tense fugitive drama, cultural immersion, street-smart comedy and swooning romance. While the pacing is at times a little too leisurely – its 132 minutes could have been trimmed – it’s still an engrossing film because we care about Queen and Slim. Turner-Smith and Kaluuya convincingly portray them as decent people caught up in a nightmare not of their making. Turner-Smith has a wonderful dignity and intelligence while Kaluuya effortlessly portrays an average guy in a strange and alien situation which he also did so wonderfully in Get Out.

Importantly, the film doesn’t champion the fact that they shot a police officer and neither character expresses any pride about this. This is definitely not some raucous celebration of anti-social and criminal behaviour. On the other hand, the film doesn’t ignore the hostile world, of which police are a part, that African American people are forced to confront.

With its wonderful collection of characters and unusual mix of humanity and street smarts, this thoughtful, cleverly-written tragi/comedy is one of the more inspired and important films so far this year.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Crime drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Melina Matsoukas.

Release date: 12th Mar 2020.

Running time: 132 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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