Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas, 2019)

From first-time feature film director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim stars well-known versatile actor Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and newcomer Jodie-Turner Smith as the titular characters. The trailer was an empowering Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008)-esque vision of a fight against prejudice, hyping me up for what Kaluuya was going to bring to the table once again. The story itself is relevant to our current climate, and the film wastes almost no time getting to the catastrophic moment that turns Queen/Angela Johnson and Slim/Earnest Hines into fugitives. Driving home from a mediocre tinder date, a white police officer pulls Kaluuya’s character Hines over for a small traffic violation. The situation escalates suddenly and violently, and Hines shoots the police officer in defence. The entire event captured on the police car’s camera, the two go on the run across the country to escape their new found notoriety, wanted for murder but instead becoming heroes symbolising a fight against racism.

Queen & Slim has all the components to make an all-around brilliant piece of work; the cast is great; the acting is great; the inspiration from real-life events is clear. This should, in theory, create a powerful and poignant message within the film’s narrative. Unfortunately, these components are not woven together at all harmoniously. I felt like I was watching poetic moments joined together by various car journeys. Even then, a lot of the scenes or interactions weren’t fully realised either; the intention and aspiration of the director was obviously there, but the execution of this felt insufficient, like the message the film wanted to present wasn’t given to us in the strong and powerful way it needed to be told.

This is partly due to the fact that the main characters themselves did not feel complete. Their choices and decisions don’t always feel like theirs, more like a vessel for progressing one scene to the next or to initiate one of those pretty, poetic moments I mentioned before. The characters are good on paper, but they weren’t developed past that. They’ll say something which works as a nice snippet of dialogue spoken over a small montage of their social fight and impact they have on others (exactly what the trailer does) but in the actual context of their respective scene, it just doesn’t flow or fit.

The fact that this film held so much potential almost makes its fall steeper. I could feel how good this film could have been, and it was so close. The overarching story needed to be constructed on a much stronger foundation than was present; were the characters more realised and the connections between events better established then Queen & Slim could’ve presented its ideas in a much more stimulating, (and thus more deeply understood by the audience) manner. It loses some of its social importance when it just plays out the visual events without depth. It’s anexample of a film indulging in style over substance, when the substance of Queen & Slim could’ve easily been produced to the quality of its style (even then, its style loses its aesthetic impact when the meaning behind it is lost).

Queen & Slim had potential; in its cast; its story; its importance to our time. It was instead a let-down. The actors and their acting were fine, possibly the saving grace of this film, but the writing and pace definitely subdued the power that the narrative could have had for its audience. Despite this film’s loss of substance, its themes aren’t devalued. The act of prejudice from a white police officer against two innocent people of colour, in America particularly, is no less than real. That relevance and importance is still there. It’s not glamourised or cheapened in any way; it’s only the formal elements that let down its thematic elements, and that’s an issue with the film as a piece of storytelling rather than the story it is telling. It’s clear that director Matsoukas will continue to create films that require as much passion as Queen & Slim was evidently fuelled by, they’ll just hopefully be constructed better.

6.5/10

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