Queen & Slim Dec 2, 2019 10:55:21 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Dec 2, 2019 10:55:21 GMT -5
Queen & Slim (2019)
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Directed by: Melina Matsoukas
Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya find themselves pulled over on a frigid evening in Queen & Slim.
Destined to be referred to as the "black Bonnie and Clyde movie," Queen & Slim is worthy of more than such a lazy description. It's sad in a way that makes you shake your head upon realizing that a scenario where an innocent pair of African-Americans getting pulled over by the cops is plagued by fear and tension. Moreover, it's a brilliant saga of two strangers on the lam as they evade the police and inadvertently gain a following from commoners who recognize how racism plays into their circumstance. The idea of "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't work for African-Americans in their situation.
The film opens with two unnamed individuals having dinner at a diner in Ohio. Let's work off the title and call them Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith, Lemon) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out). It's merely a simple Tinder date since Queen, an attorney, had a rough outcome occur with one of her clients and just wants the night to continue with some company. On the way home, the two are stopped by a police officer (played by country singer Sturgill Simpson) and the situation escalates, ending with Angela hurt, the cop killed, and the incident recorded on the officer's dashcam.
The two can practically feel themselves grasping at straws when it comes to looking at their subsequent options, so they decide to drive as far away from the crime as they can. They more-or-less come to the conclusion that they should head for Angela's uncle Earl's (Bokeem Woodbine) home in New Orleans, but it doesn't take but a few hours for national media to obtain the story and the dashcam video to garner hundreds of thousands of views online. The multifaceted isolation and helplessness of the incident forces the two fugitives to become romantically bonded, perhaps aided in part by the handful of people they come across who look at them as another sad case of unfair treatment of blacks by police officers. As such, we see glimpses of violent protests erupt in various cities on their behalf.
Queen & Slim does indeed work with a well-worn formula, which has become a genre in itself thanks to the success and legacy of films like Badlands, Thelma & Louise, and of course, the aforementioned Bonnie and Clyde. But where those films heavily romanticize crime and the subsequent fugitive lifestyle, director Melina Matsoukas (who directed music videos for songs such as Beyoncé's "Formation" and Rihanna's "We Found Love") and screenwriter Lena Waithe address themes of institutionalized racism and show the utter hopelessness of black people finding justice in a system that doesn't want to hear their sides of the story.
Daniel Kaluuya confirms yet again he's a thriving young talent, and one of the best. He's a bold, relatively new face with so much tenderness embedded in his personality and a reactive nature in both facial expressions and emotional response, two traits that make him so fiercely watchable. Jodie Turner-Smith provides a logical angle to the story and the couple's situation, in a performance that has her character struggling to downplay her obvious emotional impulses in favor of taking a practical look at trying to get them to safety. Also intriguing is how the two go from being strangers to enjoying a series of dates, so to speak, over the course of their manhunt. Their first "date" is at the diner in the beginning. Their second is at a cozy juke joint in the south, where they're in the company of black people of all different generations, enjoying music and drinks all while taking refuge in a place they come to discover is safe. Their third date is a steamy sexy-scene in a souped-up hot-rod juxtaposed with a violent protest. Frequently at the center of scenes are the sex appeal of these two characters, which makes for a sense of urgency and passion as both Queen and Slim come to realize they're all they have.
With this, anger and swagger permeate the story. Queen & Slim pulsates with style. It's beautifully filmed from the jump, featuring the cold exteriors of the American Midwest and the sun-kissed NOLA gulf, with many locales popping visually while our titular antiheroes cruise the highways and byways of the south. Credit cinematographer Tat Radcliffe for bringing a sometimes saturated color-scheme, which finds a way to admire the blackness of the characters in a way that occasionally downplays the ugliness of the situation with their natural beauty and elegance.
There is indeed some questionable decision-making on the characters' behalves that does tend to favor the narrative as opposed to the logic. The altercation with the police officer does indeed feel rushed, as it escalates maybe a bit too quickly. The treatment of an off-duty police officer the two subsequently come across is a little far-fetched given the help he's willing to provide. But the film is so kinetic that these minor conveniences do not deter the strength of just how well-paced the whole affair ultimately is. In some ways, this is as much a romantic fantasy as it is a heavily stylized drama.
Finally, the predictable lionization of Queen and Slim as unlikely heroes is pleasantly unpredictable compared to other films of this nature. There's a relatability amongst black southerners who quietly take note of how they, too, could very well be in their present situation. Everyone from uncle Earl to a black mechanic look at them with sorrowful eyes at times, sympathetically realizing how a misunderstanding has essentially ruined their lives and will forever prohibit them from being truly free again. Queen and Slim acknowledge their pity, yet in response, they live as freely as a person can whilst on borrowed time.
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Flea, Chloë Sevigny, and Sturgill Simpson. Directed by: Melina Matsoukas.