Melina Matsoukas has already worked with royalty, having directed music videoes for the likes of Beyonce, Jay Z and Lady Gaga, so it stands to reason why Queen & Slim looks like the coolest thing on four wheels for the majority of its run time. It doesn’t start that way though; putting us across from one very awkward date, we see a prickly Jodie Turner-Smith clash with Daniel Kaluuya as two halves of a Tinder date struggling to find their spark.
The fire is unquestionably there; she’s the law graduate with her guard up; he’s the open and honest guy that reconsidering swiping right. Being a supposedly imperfect match is the least of their worries though, after an intense and all too familiar traffic stop that has the same nausea-inducing grip of The Hate U Give, they flee the scene with an injury and a dead police officer in their rearview.
From here Queen & Slim quickly transforms into an undeniable and unapologetic Bonnie & Clyde for this generation, only with a much stronger statement to make. How that’s articulated is a task carefully handled by writer Lena Waithe of Master of None and Ready Player One. While there are obvious comparisons between these two and the true-to-life law-breaking couple on the run, Waithe makes sure that this leading pair never stray too far into the identity that the media is selling them as, which are shown in fleeting images of supposed cop killers. The only shot that’s fired for the majority of their journey is the one that starts it, and from there it echoes from town to town with some that see their actions as just, and some that don’t.
So much steam exudes from this pair, it’s a wonder they can see through the windscreen.
This in itself creates a complexity that sees views from both sides of the long and beautifully shot road they’re driving down. One that finds them heralded as heroes, or in the case of a lone mechanic (whose son idolises his customers) a catalyst for more police violence towards the black community. Even with that though, Matsoukas makes every effort to ensure that the most important perspective shown throughout the film is the one from inside the car and its perfectly cast passengers.
So much steam exudes from this stupidly cool pair, it’s a wonder they can see through the windscreen as chemistry quickly builds between Kaluuya and Turner-Smith that’s absorbing to see. Marking one of the latter’s first major gigs on-screen, Turner-Smith dominates it with a confidence that makes it completely unsurprising Kaluuya’s unnamed partner-in-crime (neither are referred to as ‘Queen’ or ‘Slim’ in the whole film) falls for her. He, on the other hand, carries the same sincerity in his role that has made him a talent worth watching for the past few years, demonstrating that he’s only going to go further from here. Together, with an impressive debut from Matsoukas, they’re a driving force of immeasurable charm and power that make a slightly well-ridden story feel fresh and vital for its time.