American filmmaker Melina Matsoukas has been a decorated name in the music video industry for a while and has worked with the biggest popstars in the business. In recent years, she’s transitioned into television and has now made her directorial debut in film with romantic crime drama Queen & Slim. The story begins as defence attorney Angela (Jodie Turner-Smith) goes on a Tinder date with Earnest (Daniel Kaluuya) at a grubby local diner. On the drive home, they are pulled over by the police and an altercation with a white male cop rapidly escalates. Impulsively, they decide to run from the law, and a nationwide manhunt for ‘cop killers’ quickly ensues.
For a first-time feature, this is a very ambitious piece of work that is rich in social context. It’s clear that Matsoukas has a strong eye for aesthetics, and she provides an artistic canvas for the plot of injustice to unravel upon. Adopting a linear road movie structure, the runaways meet friends and foes on their journey and these often-intense encounters play out like mini episodes of the overarching narrative. Some of these subplots admittedly some work better than others as Lena Waithe’s politically charged script explores the varying perceptions and perspectives of the doomed protagonists through the viewpoints of the supporting characters. Angela and Earnest are practically strangers at the beginning of the film, and we see their relationship grow and develop into a passionate bond as they adapt to horrendous circumstances.
Despite starting his career as a television writer, London lad Daniel Kaluuya has exploded into cinema across the pond with acclaimed appearances in movies such as Get Out, Widows, and Black Panther. In this outing as Earnest, he is brilliant, and displays the expressive range to move from a confident first date persona to a man living in fear of his life and his freedom. One particular scene where he wants to reach out to his family is heart-breaking to watch. He shares the screen opposite British model turned actress Jodie Turner-Smith who is a towering powerhouse presence. Angela is straight-talking and incredibly strong, but her layered portrayal has the depth to show her softer side too.
Queen & Slim tells a remarkable tale of two individuals whose lives are torn apart but then tossed together in a moment of madness. It’s an engaging, angry picture of prejudice and suspense presented with style, substance, and a suitably super soundtrack by the exciting creative mind of Melina Matsoukas.