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It’s hard to imagine another American movie in 2019 that radiates with the fury and frustration that sets “Queen & Slim” ablaze in its opening minutes. Written by Lena Waithe (“The Chi”) and given a striking lyrical gloss by director Melina Matsoukas in her feature debut, this somber meditation on police violence against people of color is a flawed but powerful indictment, as well as a paean to disenfranchised anger. Matsoukas’ fast and furious filmmaking doesn’t always click, but it always crackles with purpose, refashioning the lovers-on-the-lam trope into an emotional black-lives-matter lament, and it deserves to be met on those terms.
At the same time, the characterization of “Queen & Slim” as a “black ‘Bonnie and Clyde’” — called out in the script itself — does a disservice to both ends of that equation. Arthur Penn’s seminal outlaw saga was more of a cultural statement on sex and violence in mass media, whereas “Queen & Slim” uses a similar narrative framework to explore more heartfelt concerns embodied by a very different set of protagonists.
Queen - Jodie - Turner-Smith - Slim - Out
When we first meet Queen (astonishing breakout Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (“Get Out” phenom Daniel Kaluuya), they’re enmeshed in an amiable first date at an Ohio diner. It’s going well: The pair flirt through a harmless conversation about other patrons and the crummy restaurant food before calling it a night; as Slim drives home, a playful Queen tells him not to get his hopes up. So far, so “Before” trilogy — but “Queen & Slim” doesn’t linger in its whimsical romance for long before the darkness overtakes the frame.
When a police officer pulls Slim over for a busted tail light, the tension kicks in and rises as a flashlight illuminates two baffled dark faces. We know the basics of this sorry saga even before it goes south,...
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