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Queen & Slim
★★★☆☆
First run Theater cinema

Music video and television director Melina Matsoukas makes her feature début with Queen & Slim, a timely, distinctive, and powerful spin on the lovers-on-the-run subgenre of crime thriller. After a go-nowhere Tinder date, a mismatched pair played by Daniel Kaluuya (SicarioGet OutBlack Panther) and fashion model turned actress Jodie Turner-Smith, find themselves fugitives from the law running for their lives. Anyone acquainted with this type of picture knows how it will end, but that doesn’t keep the movie from constantly surprising and keeping viewers on the edge of our seats.

Queen & Slim positions itself as “the black Bonnie and Clyde." One character even refers to the titular protagonists this way because they take on the kind of outlaw folk-hero status of the legendary Barrow gang—for different but not dissimilar societal reasons. However, Queen & Slim actually has more in common with Thelma & Louise (1991). Whereas Bonnie and Clyde were unabashed criminals; Thelma and Louise were victims of circumstance who became outlaws after a series of choices, some righteous and some foolish. The characters in this picture make more than their fair share of foolish choices too—some that defy both logic and credibility. But for the most part, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy Queen & Slim is the forgivable sort that so often enables an astute and exciting mainstream movie. 

Newcomer Turner-Smith proves a worthy match for the acclaimed Kaluuya. And his subtle support of her, while easy to overlook, is every bit as critical an aspect of great acting as the crying and speechifying that garners awards. Together, these cool, sexy, self-possessed actors carry the picture through some heady, abstract sequences that don’t all sit well.  Lena Waithe’s screenplay makes some bold narrative and thematic choices, some that verge on destabilizing the story, but Matsoukas delivers them with such confidence and style that even moments that should feel exploitative or irresponsible come across as exhilarating and thought-provoking. 

For a suspense thriller, Queen & Slim is leisurely paced, but it never feels slow or episodic. In fact, the unhurried stride is what makes it so special. The way the main characters are given space to breathe, and think, and get to know each other lends credence and authenticity to the way their uneasy relationship develops. In today’s cinematic landscape, the quiet, patient qualities of this subversive genre movie end up being its most revolutionary aspects—that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment, but high praise.

Twitter Capsule:
A couple on an unpromising first date become fugitives in Matsoukas’s gripping, dreamlike début. Timely, surprising, and astute subversion of the lovers-on-the-run subgenre. Many illogical choices here; many bold ones too.

Directed by Melina Matsoukas
Produced by Pamela Abdy, Lena Waithe, Melina Matsoukas, Andrew Coles, James Frey, Michelle Knudsen, and Brad Weston

Screenplay by Lena Waithe
Story by Lena Waithe and James Frey

With: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson, Indya Moore, Benito Martinez, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Soledad O'Brien, and Gayle King

Cinematography: Tat Radcliffe
Editing: Pete Beaudreau

Runtime: 132 min
Release Date: 27 November 2019
Aspect Ratio: 2.39 : 1
Color