Queen & Slim is one of those films that seems like a dream project, featuring the visuals of a Grammy-winning director and a screenplay from an Emmy-winning writer. And at times it meets the expectations of such talent, even boasting a cast that is more than capable of making the material (and the moments in-between) come alive. Other times, it feels like a wasted opportunity, not because the dialogue, acting, or visuals fail, but because some of the base story points lack the same subtlety. If you are able to look past the contrivances of the plot, there is a great movie here. At the same time, it also feels like a lot of talent was wasted on a project that never feels fully cohesive.
At its center, Queen & Slim is Bonnie and Clyde for the ‘Black Lives Matter’ era, and this is clear within the first seven minutes of the 132-minute run-time. After a slightly combative first date between two very different people, Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) are pulled over by a police officer. When the stop escalates unnecessarily, Queen tries to intervene, having experience as a lawyer. Despite his passive attitude, Slim responds when Queen’s pleas are met with gunfire, and the brief conflict ends with a dead police officer. Seeing no way out of the trouble, the pair decides to run together.
This early sequence is far from unfamiliar, in the news or onscreen, and at this point it has almost reached the level of being a cinematic cliché in its overuse. What saves this contrived sequence from ruining the movie is the performances by the leads, and the effectiveness of the dialogue in the intimate moments between the obligatory conflict-filled ones. Lena Waithe won an Emmy for writing raw and honest dialogue dealing with social commentary (about sexuality as well as race), and the moments the script is more interested in the characters sharing their thoughts than plot development are also the moments the movie shines. Unfortunately, the film also feels bloated with director Melina Matsoukas music-video style.
Don’t get me wrong; I give Matsoukas credit for the beautiful look of the movie, as well as the effective chemistry between all actors onscreen. But there is about 90-minutes of plot, and at least 40-minutes of a mix-tape music video of footage that would have served the story better on the cutting room floor. What little score that is allowed to come through between samples of obscure hip-hop and classic R&B is actually quite effective, but the film is more interested in building a strong soundtrack instead. If the playlist was cut in half, it would make for a better (and shorter) film.
Director Matsoukas is likely best known for directing Beyoncé music videos (including a segment of Lemonade), but she also directed the episode of ‘Master of None’ that Waithe won her Emmy for, as well as several episodes of “Insecure.” It actually makes sense to look at both of these career choices, because Queen & Slim often feels like a combination of the two. It has strong visuals throughout (if a bit dark in places), and often feels almost episodic in nature. The pacing also feels less rushed than most movies, and more like modern television. But what really saves the film is the chemistry between the lead characters, who have very different life outlooks until they bond through the difficulties of life on the run. The path of the film may be laid out in a predictable manner, but the actors make us feel as though it is occurring in real time, more through the urgency and rawness of their performances than any modern relevance.
The 4K release of Queen & Slim certainly enhances some of the visual aspects, though that is not always a good thing. With the deeper blacks, some of the scenes can be difficult to see, though the cinematography is never less than beautiful. It is simply an easier film to make out in the daytime sequences, which also have a darker tint to lend the visuals to a 70s Blaxploitation style. My main suggestion would be to watch the film at night or in a dark room, to better capture the strength of the cinematography and how the 4K disc is able to enhance that.
The combo pack also comes with a Blu-ray disc and a code for a digital copy. The special features on the disc itself include four featurettes (mostly just promotional self-flattery), and a commentary track with Matsoukas and Waithe. The 4K disc has the featurettes in 4K resolution as well.
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 6/10