Once again it is Oscar bait season and the plethora of well made, terrifically acted feature films is ramping up into high gear. The (mostly) dramas are aesthetically pleasing, generally, thought-provoking and not only require the audience to think but to have them leave the theater feeling a range of emotions. In her feature film directorial debut, Melina Matsoukas (Insecure) throws her hat in the proverbial ring with this holiday season's Queen & Slim. Combining social injustice with a "Bonnie and Clyde" like escapade the movie has something important to say and shouts its message from the rooftop.
Slim (Daniel Kaluuya; Get Out) and Queen (Jodi Turner-Smith; The Last Ship) are having a less than a stellar first date. Hoping it will be over soon, Queen asks Slim to drive her home but on the way, they get pulled over for a minor traffic violation. Unfortunately, things begin to escalate when the officer makes Slim get out of the car for no reason and then he shoots Queen when she tries to interfere. After a scuffle, Slim accidentally kills the officer and the two suddenly find themselves on the run as a manhunt to catch these so-called "cop killers" gets underway.
As these two modern-day Bonnie and Clyde avoid capture they discover things about themselves and each other. They head to Queen's uncle, Earl (Bokeem Woodbine; Riddick) for assistance since he "owes" her and he gives them food, money, a car and his contact in Georgia who will help them get to Cuba. The Georgia contact (played by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) then puts them in touch with a guy named Jackson (Bertrand Boyd II; Murder Gardens) who has someone that can fly them to Cuba. Once everything is arranged Jackson drives them to the landing strip in the Florida Keys and just as Queen & Slim are about to make their way to the plane, the police arrive. Somewhere along the way, they were sold out for the reward money, but by whom?
Kaluuya and Turner-Smith do a great job of portraying these strong and intense characters. Sadly, they have little chemistry, which makes their love scene rather awkward and uncomfortable to watch. Woodbine is a scene-stealer who adds the "character" to his character. The rest of the supporting cast helps move the film along but don't add all that much in terms of plot details.
For her feature film debut, Director Matsoukas does a wonderful job keeping the pacing going at a decent clip without many lagging moments. Her visuals are purposeful and no shot is wasted. She manages to tackle a relevant but tough subject matter without having it become preachy. She offers the audience first-hand insight into the black lives matter movement and shows how the violence can escalate so quickly. The look on a teenage boy's face when he shoots a police officer is powerful, moving and heartbreaking. The ending, which couldn't have ended any other way, leaves you devastated and wrecked.
While Queen & Slim is a raw and shocking commentary on our society these days, I don't know that it will click with all audiences. As a middle-aged, white, female I certainly couldn't relate to the underlying struggle many in poor, predominately black communities face but I could comprehend the outrage of the injustice they tend to be faced with on a regular basis.
I also find it interesting that many of us walked out of the theater having no idea where the names Queen & Slim actually originated from and how they pertained to the main characters (we also jokingly questioned which one was actually Queen and which one was slim).
Queen & Slim is difficult to watch at times, but it is thought-provoking and insightful into what is happening around the country.