A man and a woman sit across each other at a table in a cheap restaurant. Their presence is awkward and distant; it’s no surprise when we discover that they’re on a first date from ‘Tinder’. They slowly work through their meal in quiet conversation learning more about each and the space becomes less stilted and a little more comfortable as they go along but it looks to be a forgettable experience for both of them nevertheless. He(Daniel Kaluuya) drives her(Jodie Turner-Smith) home with hopes of maybe getting to know her better but it seems highly unlikely, he settles for dropping her at her place and going home right after. Neither expects the turn of events about to occur when a policeman pulls them over for failing to use a turn signal. The situation escalates, he ends up shooting the policeman in self-defense and she ends up with a gunshot wound. What was supposed to be a simple evening is now a race across the country evading the police on the account of a murder.
The current racial tension in America gives significant relevance to the issues explored in Queen and Slim but the real value of the film is in the way it chooses to go about its material. It’s less about the anxiety-fueled suspense of two black people on the run from the law and more about the relationships these two people cultivate with each other and the people they come across on their journey. Their first resolve is to go to New Orleans where Queen’s uncle, a former criminal, resides and get his help. It’s in New Orleans when we first get a sense of the strange and troubled relationship Queen has with her family. Her uncle, played by Bokeem Woodbine of Tv series ‘Fargo’ fame in what I’d call a perfectly decent performance, is at first reluctant to take them in but relents when Queen remarks that he owes her for representing him in court and successfully getting him out of a murder charge. We later learn that the murder was of Queen’s mother further showcasing the complexity of their relationship. A complexity that’s interesting but at the same time one could call it inorganic, one could call it that.
From him, they have their hair cut, a vehicle and some money to enable them to keep going. All while this is happening, their actions have gone viral in the internet and there’s a surprising amount of support from black people all over the country who see the situation for what it is, a policeman murdered while trying to exert unjustified violence on two innocent victims.
There’s a deep 50s & 60s atmosphere the film carries despite being set in modern times. The sense that these characters are living in a more stable period is lost and it feels as though they are smack in the middle of the civil rights movement. At the same time the little evidence of the modern setting serves to remind us how far the civil rights movement has come yet things still seem to be the same, not much has changed. This carries on as a motif in the way events unfold.
Somewhere close to the midpoint the film takes a more laid back approach, becomes more meditative on the characters’ choices through their lives whilst trying to build the dynamic between our two leads. There are times when this approach though proven to work beautifully in films like ‘Only yesterday (1991)’ and ‘Bottle rocket (1996)’ among others, seemed to fall apart and left me unenthused about what was happening.
The start of the film gives an intriguing exchange between the two characters who at first don’t enjoy each other’s company but are brought closer by circumstances and one would hope that their time together through the ensuing events would offer a similar if not more engaging experience but the film descends into repetitiveness and poorly conceived scenarios a prime example being an exchange between Slim and a convenient store cashier. The dynamic between the characters also begins to lose momentum, their exchanges once well-constructed starts to feel a little stilted and unmotivated. I was left eager to see where these characters finally end up not out of intrigue but a sense of obligation to this story that showed so much promise at the start.
Queen & Slim is an emotional and at times poetic film that leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not as rich and poignant as it sets out to be though some credit has to be given for the care and attention it takes in trying to achieve that goal.