Monday, 9 March 2020

Film Review: Queen and Slim

After arranging to meet through Tinder, a young African-American couple’s mediocre first date takes a turn for the worse when they are pulled over by a trigger-happy police officer.

When the routine traffic stops escalates and the officer is killed in self-defence, the couple must race off into the night and leave their lives behind – and that’s all before the title card. 

After a long and storied career shooting music videos for artists like Beyoncé, Rihanna and Solange, Queen and Slim marks director Melina Matsoukas’ first feature. Visual storytelling language, so prevalent in music videos, comes across loud and clear here too. Matsoukas brings a very distinct visual style to the table and, when coupled with Tat Radcliffe’s rich cinematography and Lena Waithe’s (Netflix’s Master of None) screenplay, makes Queen and Slim a film with purpose, passion and flair.

A contemporary spin on Bonnie and Clyde – which is cheekily referenced in the film – Matsoukas and Waithe’s film also seeks to unpack race relations and oppressive authority structures in America, with mixed results. The opening sequence where Queen and Slim are pulled over for a minor traffic infringement is torn from the headlines, and based in reality. Later, a couple of other storytelling decisions in the second half – which sprinkle in some nuance to the tune of ‘well, maybe it’s not all cops’ – doesn’t have the desired effect, in my opinion, and instead detracts from the film’s core message.

In terms of acting talent, it’s hard to fault this film. Front and centre are hot British export Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and relative newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith as the odd couple who find themselves on the run. Kaluuya is in fine form, balancing humour, horror and everything in-between, while Turner-Smith’s more layered character is afforded most of the emotional heft. 

Some interesting character actors – Chloe Sevigny, Bokeem Woodbine, Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers – round out the cast, but their impact is fleeting, owing to the stop-go structure of Waithe’s screenplay.

An overlong second act sees Queen and Slim lose steam somewhere around the 90-minute mark, pulling its characters down some narrative cul-de-sacs. After such an electric opening, the film limps to the finish and lacks urgency. 

The Verdict: 6.5/10

An imperfect film that swings for the fences is much more compelling than one that just plays it safe, and Queen and Slim is definitely the former.

Queen and Slim is in cinemas across Australia from this Thursday 12 March.

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