Queen & Slim - This Movie Rocks The Elegiac
Dir: Melina Matsoukas
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Chloe Sevigny, Bokeem Woodbine, Flea
A #BlackLivesMatter Bonnie & Clyde? Or just the worst Tinder date ever? Matsoukas’ debut movie is remarkably a bit of both. And a good deal more to boot.
Although never mentioned on screen by name, Kaluuya is Slim to Turner Smith’s Queen, who we first meet on a low-key Tinder date that soon escalates to a fatal altercation with a trigger-happy racist cop who, it’s fair to says, come off the worse in said situation.
With lawyer Queen offering advice, the two take to the road, beginning what turns out to be an episodic journey from Ohio to Florida – an escape to Cuba being the seeming unattainable dream. As they journey through the States inbetween, their action become the stuff of contemporary near-mythology in the hugely supportive black communities they pass through, the Bonnie & Clyde analogy being writ large in these encounters.
Long an acclaimed pop video maker, Matsoukas’ first feature is remarkably impressive in many ways, not least in the tone it sets and builds on, moving from a night-time sense of dreaminess (beautifully captured by Tad Radcliffe’s neon-strewn photography) to an almost constant sense of tension, which builds and builds to what feels inevitable but which – one of the film’s greatest strengths – is always imbued with a sense of hope, even optimism.
The latter is due in many respects to the power and empathy created by the two leads. Both Kaluuya and Turner-Smith are superb here, both compelling us to root for them, as the odds rise in anything but their favour. They make their fledging love affair seem real and understandable, and allow some of the less convincing elements of their journey as the film progresses to feel believable.
As Queen and Slim’s odyssey – both literal and political – moves towards its climax, the director ratchets up the tension to a journey’s end that is as moving as it is beautiful.