Movie Review – Queen & Slim
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
The obvious comparison, which the film itself name-checks, is Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Yet, that comparison isn’t exactly appropriate. Yes, it’s about a man and woman, romantically linked, on the run from the police. There have been a number of films about a romantic couple on the run from the police, such as Boxcar Bertha (1972), The Getaway (1972), Badlands (1973), The Sugarland Express (1974), Something Wild (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), True Romance (1993), Natural Born Killers (1994) and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (2013). The difference between those movies and this one is the fact that the characters here didn’t start out as criminals before they went on the run. Even though it’s not about a romantic couple in the heterosexual sense, this film is more akin to Thelma & Louise (1991).
Whether it’s Bonnie & Clyde or whether it’s Thelma & Louise, those kinds of stories normally don’t involve African-Americans in the lead roles. Lovers-on-the-lamb or lovers-on-the-run stories are typically reserved for white people. There is perhaps a blaxploitation flick that answers or fills that discrepancy, but none have jumped out in my limited research. Films about infamous, real-life, white fugitives have been made constantly, but not a lot have been made about real-life black fugitives. Recently, there was Blue Caprice (2013), which was about the DC Sniper attacks in 2002, but that was an independent film that didn’t get a wide release and that no one really saw. This film even name-checks Assata Shakur, who was added to the FBI’s Most Wanted list in 1979. She is probably the most famous African-American fugitive alive, but oddly, a narrative feature has never been made about her. This film is a single weight on the counterbalance of this discrepancy. One criticism that’s probably unavoidable because it’s lobbed at films about white criminals is that this film could be seen as romanticizing criminality. Literally, it’s about a romantic story between an African-American couple that is thrust into criminality or has criminality thrust upon them.
Daniel Kaluuya (Widows and Get Out) stars as Ernest Hines aka “Slim,” a young black man who is on a late night date in a diner with a woman in Cleveland. He has parents, but we don’t know what they do. We don’t really get what Ernest does for work. He’s smart, though, and an easy-going guy. His date was arranged through an online phone app. What that says about him is unclear, but his profile picture is described as looking sad. He does seem like a romantic guy who is into jazz music. One piece of music to which he listens comes from the soundtrack to Love Jones (1997). In fact, his character feels akin to the male lead in Love Jones, that of Darius.
Jodie Turner-Smith (The Last Ship and True Blood) also stars as Angela Johnson, aka “Queen,” a young black woman who works as a lawyer. After a client of hers is sentenced to death, she decides to go out on this date to take her mind off things. Her character also feels akin to the female lead in Love Jones, that of Nina. Yet, she might be even more cynical and is constantly throwing shade toward Ernest. She doesn’t seem to like him or is annoyed by him.
We see Ernest and Angela together on this one date. It’s only five to ten minutes of screen time before the two of them go on the run from the police. The aforementioned films about lovers-on-the-run always gave us more time of the couple together before putting them on the run. The couples were indeed lovers before they went on the run. Here, the couple aren’t lovers. They haven’t kissed or certainly had sex. They barely know each other before they decide to go on the run and try to evade the police. This makes the film different from the aforementioned films about lovers-on-the-run. It makes the film more unique. Unfortunately, it also makes the film less believable. It makes suspension of disbelief a little bit more difficult, particularly when it comes to Angela.
The inciting incident is a reversal of a Black Lives Matter incident. Normally, in a Black Lives Matter case, it’s an unarmed black person who gets needlessly shot and killed by a police officer who claims to be in fear of his or her life. Here, it’s the reverse. An unarmed or rather a disarmed police officer is shot and killed by a black person who is in fear of his life. In a traffic stop gone wrong, a police officer shoots Angela in the leg and Ernest then shoots that officer dead with the officer’s own gun. One would think that Ernest in a panic would take Angela and go on the run, but it’s Angela who decides they should just jet. Given what we learn later, this decision makes no sense.
Angela is a lawyer and later we learn that she has gotten her uncle off from a murder charge. Her uncle is Earl, played by Bokeem Woodbine (Dead Presidents and Jason’s Lyric). Therefore, she’s used the law and the legal justice system to get someone off a murder charge. Yes, she’s bummed about what her recent client is facing, but we don’t even get the details of that case. It could be and probably is totally different than what she and Ernest experienced. For her to decide to abandon it all then and there is a leap that never feels justified. Given that she wasn’t the one who killed the police officer, it’s also never justified as to why she would make herself a fugitive for a guy she just met that night on a first date.
Written by Lena Waithe (The Chi and Master of None), the premise feels a bit contrived or simply a way to have a road trip movie where we watch two black people fall in love. Everything is heightened and charged due to them being on the run, which helps to expedite their romance. They don’t seem to have much in common besides the appreciation of the film Love Jones, but it’s a shame that their romance can’t live up to the one between Darius and Nina. Besides having to help save each other’s lives, I’m not sure they seem all that compatible or possessing all that much chemistry together. There is a really intense sex scene between the two, however.
I simply wish that Waithe and director Melina Matsoukas hadn’t decided to turn this whole thing into a road trip movie or primarily a road trip movie. The reversal of the Black Lives Matter type of incident is something I would have loved to see play out in a court room. If you wanted to maintain the road trip movie formula, the filmmakers still could have explored the reversal. We see Ernest and Angela encounter a range of people on the run. Having those people comment more on the reversal and what it means or what the nuances to it are could have been great drama to mine. Otherwise, the road trip stuff is built on a series of lucky encounters that all feel contrived until the luck just randomly ends.
Rated R for violence, strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language and brief drug use.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 11 mins.