The Movie Waffler New to Netflix - QUEEN & SLIM | The Movie Waffler

New to Netflix - QUEEN & SLIM

queen & slim review
After killing a cop in self defence, a pair of burgeoning lovers go on the run.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Melina Matsoukas

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine, Chloë Sevigny, Flea, Sturgill Simpson

queen & slim dvd

For as long as America has had cops, guns and black men, American cops have been shooting black men. It's only in recent years, thanks to the abundance of phones with built-in high quality cameras, that the level of this problem has been truly exposed to the rest of the world. As far back as 1974, director Dennis McGuire explored this issue with his film Shoot it Black, Shoot it Blue, in which a young black film student captures on film the police shooting of an unarmed black man, but in the years since, Hollywood has been notably quiet on this front.

Music video director turned first time feature filmmaker Melina Matsoukas's Queen & Slim isn't about a cop being filmed killing  a black man, but ironically the reverse. Like Floyd Mutrux's 1975 counterculture classic Aloha, Bobby and Rose, Queen & Slim begins with a first date that ends in an unexpected violent turn of events. Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) meet up for a tinder date in a diner, but soon realise they have little in common. Slim is laidback, refusing to complain when the waitress brings him a wrong order, while Queen is put out by what she sees as incompetence. Slim says his prayers before his meal but Queen is an atheist. The most important thing in life to Slim is family. Queen claims she has no family. Queen likes slim Luther Vandross, while Slim (correctly) prefers fat Luther.

queen & slim review

With the date leading nowhere, Queen asks Slim to drive her home, making it clear the date will end on her doorstep. On the way they're pulled over by a traffic cop (Sturgill Simpson) who behaves in an aggressive, confrontational manner. Slim is obedient, but Queen, a defence attorney who knows the law inside out, calls out the cop for his behaviour, leading to an escalation of the situation which results in the cop shooting Queen in the leg. Slim wrestles with the cop, and before he has time to realise what he's doing, he's killed the officer with his own gun.

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The opening 10 minutes or so of Matsoukas's film are deftly handled. For a start, the opening scene gives us something we don't often see in American cinema, two black people with everyday lives just hanging out and having a banal conversation. The following sequence is wrought with tension, playing on our familiarity with a thousand headlines. Unfortunately, everything that follows from this point is an unmitigated disaster.

Queen & Slim is dogged by an ongoing series of character decisions and plot beats that defy logic. For a start, it's impossible to believe that Queen would agree to go on the run with Slim. As someone who knows the law inside out, she would be all too aware that the incident would have been caught on the dead cop's dashcam, indicting Slim while clearing herself. She would also know that in the surveillance state of 2019 America, it's impossible to outrun the law, especially when you've killed one of their own.

queen & slim review

While in flight, Queen and Slim make a series of ridiculously dumb decisions, like Slim handing his loaded gun over to a gas station clerk when his attempt to rob the place backfires; like seeking shelter in the one place guaranteed to attract police attention - a brothel; like parking the car they made their getaway in directly outside their safehouse. But it's not just the eponymous fugitives who behave like idiots here, it's something that seems to afflict every single character they encounter. A kindly stranger who turns out to be a local Sheriff (Benito Martinez) gives the pair a lift, but is implausibly unperturbed by the bullet wound in Queen's leg (which turns out to be one of those classic movie wounds that conveniently heals within hours). A teenager inspired by their actions commits a suicidal act. When the police raid the home of the white couple (Flea and Chloë Sevigny) who have given the pair shelter, they fail to act like any real police force and leave the house without tearing it apart.

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As a result, Queen and Slim rarely appear to be in any real danger, which is a crazy thing to say about two African-Americans wanted for a cop killing. Nothing seems to perturb them all that much. A lot of water cascades off these ducks' backs, as they fail to respond to the aforementioned incident with the teenage boy, which you think might give them some pause for thought, or the fact that Slim is led to believe his father has disowned him when he hangs up on his phone call.

Matsoukas has directed a series of acclaimed music promos, and on the evidence of her feature debut, perhaps she's unsuited to narrative filmmaking, where movies live or die on the strength of believable characters we can emotionally invest in. There are sequences here that might make for an attention grabbing four minute music video, but they jar with the movie around them, none more so than a sex scene intercut with a violent protest that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of The Red Shoe Diaries.

queen & slim review

For a movie directed and written (Lena Waithe) by women, Queen & Slim often borders on misogyny. Of the titular pair, it's Queen who has to do most of the compromising as she comes around to Slim's way of thinking, even appearing to have found God by the end of the movie. The brothel workers profess their undying love for their pimp (Bokeem Woodbine), despite his aggressive behaviour towards them. Sevigny's prissy soccer mom doesn't want to give Queen and Slim shelter, but is bullied by her frankly terrifying husband. And a climactic gunshot is fired by a female cop.

As Queen & Slim descends into such clichés as a character hanging out of a car window to experience the simple joy of freedom, you begin to wonder how such a terrible script could have made it to the screen in its present form. There's a great movie to be wrought from this subject, but it will require filmmaking with far more weight than this. It's ironic that while countries with oppressive regimes like China, Russia and Iran are giving us daring, confrontational political cinema, the best the US can muster is "slay kween" tumblr bait like this.

Queen & Slim is on Netflix UK/ROI now.