Grackles review Queen and Slim

Directed by Melina Matsuokas

Reviewed by Scott Ray and Charlie Riccardelli 

In Queen & Slim, Melina Matsuokas makes her feature film debut following the titular characters on a cross-country run on the lam as they are forced to evade the law after killing a police officer in self-defense during a traffic stop gone wrong. This wildly ambitious feature manages to update the classic getaway film and also seriously examines police violence towards people of color in America, while simultaneously taking the time to delicately track the doomed budding romance between the two title characters. This is Matsuokas’s first feature film, though she is the director of more than 30 music videos and recipient of two Grammy’s and four VMA’s.

The story begins with Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) on a first date that isn’t going very well. If things had gone differently, there probably wouldn’t have been a second date. When Slim is pulled over on the way home for dubious reasons, the traffic stop quickly spirals out of control, ending with Slim defending his and Queen’s life by killing the officer. From there, Queen and Slim hit the road, heading for New Orleans and beyond hoping to evade the law by any means necessary.

Scott Ray: I love a film with a good, long, cold open. I like it when the cold open is so long I forget we haven’t seen the title card yet. The first one I think of is Raising Arizona, but I think the opening to this film ranks right up there with it. I especially enjoy a cold open where things keep getting worse and worse and when the title card finally appears the gravity of what’s occurred to the characters makes it even more difficult to contemplate how the characters can possibly proceed. Everything that sets the film in motion happens in that cold open, the decisions Queen and Slim had no part in and the ones that they did.

The film looks and sounds fantastic. You can feel Matsuokas’s music video chops all through the film. The music choices are great and the visuals are always dynamic—the movie poster itself is a good preview of the visual choices Matsuokas makes throughout. Visually, it’s a movie of contrasts. Wide open rural expanses juxtaposed with crowded, brightly painted New Orleans houses. The emptiness of the road in contrast with a loud and sweaty Georgia juke joint. Dark nights and bright lights. And Matsuokas shows the road and the landscape constantly. It’s a road movie after all. The film loves to show the cars moving through rustic locales, away from the camera, towards the camera.

Charlie Riccardelli: Because she has such an accomplished background as a filmmaker, Matsuokas sidesteps a lot of the pitfalls that typically snare first-time directors, especially when it comes to trusting the visuals and an economy of storytelling. Queen & Slim takes place in vignettes as our heroes travel across the country meeting people, and many of those scenes have a kick to them because Matsuokas strings them together like little interconnected short stories that say as much about the people Queen and Slim encounter as it does them. You have Queen’s pimp uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine) who’s suffering fro