By John H. Foote
Each year great films slip through the cracks, often to be discovered on Blu Ray or rep cinemas, though the latter has become less frequent. Queen and Slim was such a film for me, and one I regret not seeing sooner. If I had, the film would have cracked my 10-best list for 2019, and I would have championed the superb performances, the tight direction, and excellent screenplay. The film explores racial hatred, and what else but such hatred would drive the aggressive cop to treat the couple, out on a date, so terribly? We learn later in the film he was responsible for the death of an innocent black citizen, and had things gone a different way, our couple would have likely been killed.
Queen (Jodie Turner Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kuluuya), nicknames, are heading home after what seems to have been a painful first date. Pulled over by a white cop, Slim is quickly profiled, and treated like a thug. He has done nothing wrong, yet is subjected to a car search, and when he complains about the cold, the officer draws his weapon and orders him to the ground. Queen, an attorney steps out of the car to identify herself as such and is shot. Slim jumps on the cop, they struggle, the gun skitters free, Slim gets it and in an instant their lives are forever altered when he shoots the cop dead. Now this was a bad cop, the who sees a black man and sees a criminal rather than a human being.
Winged by the shot, Queen and Slim jump into their car and flee, knowing they need to run as far as they can as fast as they can go. From Cleveland, Ohio, their journey takes them through Kentucky, New Orleans and finally Florida where they hope to fly to Cuba with the help of friends and the friends of friends along the way.
Fugitives, terrified, knowing a nation-wide manhunt is in progress to find them, the last thing either expects is to fall for the other. Walls of emotion fall, carefully guarded hearts are opened, and in a shocking twist, a tender love story amidst the chaos and manhunt evolves. Initially cold and rigid towards Slim (though never referred to by name, any name), she warms to him and together they move from state to state with aid from family and their growing army of supporters.
Kuluuya, after his dazzling turn in Get Out (2017) and an insidious supporting performance in Widows (2018) has become one of the most exciting young actors in movies. With his pleading eyes, we cannot figure out why the cop is to angry at him, making him jump through hoops, insulting him? When it goes wrong, he does not panic, but knows they must hit the road. Sniping back and forth, they seem to realize each is all the other has and a bond is forged.
Long, limbed Jodi Turner Smith is a revelation as his partner in crime, as a loyal fiercely angered at the treatment the cop delivers, but totally onside with the bully’s death. She has the added burden of knowing what the law and police do with cop killers, and it equally afraid. The journey causes her to undergo a metamorphosis, much like a butterfly emerging from the solitude of a cocoon. Telling him straight up “I prefer to be alone” she overcomes that as they make intense, passionate love in the car. The actress radiates intelligence, though comes to rely on him for practical matters.
The two have an undeniable chemistry together that made them fascinating and entirely believable.
Melina Matsoukas directed the film with a gritty edge, utilizing the back roads and back streets on the South. The lady has an assured, confident hand, absolutely in control of the narrative and her actors.
Unable to remain in hiding, now celebrities on national TV and print, they receive help from the most unlikely places. Yet sadly, they trust some of the wrong people, which in the end costs them much.
This was one of the very best films of 2019. Oscar missed it, entirely. Shame on the Academy.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.