Queen and Slim’s initially unnamed two lead characters, brilliantly played by Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are referred to at one point in the film as “the black Bonnie and Clyde” which if you’re looking for a succinct, over-simplified synopsis gives you a good idea of what to expect without spoilers. There’s also more than a dash of Thelma and Louise duo on the run road movie in there, as well as a reaction to the all too frequent deaths of black Americans at the hands of police officers.
Kaluuya and Turner-Smith both deliver layered, award worthy performances, subtle, at turns heartbreaking and hilarious. Thanks to their fine acting and Lena Waithe’s first-rate screenwriting it’s a delight to watch the chemistry that builds between the characters from first date strangers to the nation’s most wanted couple on the run. Despite the almost real time setting of the film over just a couple of days, there’s rich character development. The tension and uncertainty of their futures leads to some passionate sex, but when it arrives, although steamy and beautifully lit and shot by Tat Radcliffe, it’s an unexpectedly powerful and complex scene, devastatingly juxtaposed with a sequence of violence happening elsewhere.
It’s not only the lead actors who deserves praise, in fact every actor makes the most of their supporting roles, however short the screen time. When Indya Moore (best known for playing Angel on FX’s Pose) first appeared on screen there were cheers from the audience at the New York press screening I was at, and they create a soulful and memorable character who we instantly care about. Bryant Tardy and Justin Carmouche both make a lasting impact too for different reasons, as does Bokeem Woodbine in the more sizeable supporting role of Uncle Earl.
Utterly riveting throughout, the 132 minute running time allows us to get a sense that we’re along for ride on this cross-country odyssey. Without losing any of the suspense there are some quiet, contemplative moments, as well as laugh out loud interludes, with some stunning aerial shots and claustrophobic car closeups. It’s intense, romantic and gut-wrenchingly sad at times. Ultimately Queen & Slim feels like a hymn to how precious life is, urging us to live in the moment, to find and cherish love for however long we may have it. Director Melina Matsoukas has made one of the year’s best films, that’ll give you plenty to talk about over dinner afterwards and on the journey home. And maybe the next day too.
By James Kleinmann
Queen & Slim opens in US theaters Wednesday Novemver 27th 2019.