Usually when Cineworld host a secret screening for its unlimited members, it’s for a lesser known film that they’re hoping to drum up interest and support for. They do occasionally show something a bit more mainstream though (the last one I went to was for an advance showing of Le Mans ’66) and a lot of people in the run up to last nights secret screening were actually expecting it to be Little Women. It turned out to be Queen & Slim, a film that I knew very little about, and probably wouldn’t have ventured to see at the cinema if I’m honest. Which is obviously the whole idea behind the secret screenings and why they urge you on social media beforehand to stick with it when you discover what it is!
Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are at a diner for their first Tinder date and they seem to be getting along, although a second date isn’t exactly a definite just yet. As they drive home afterwards, they are pulled over by a white cop for driving erratically (Slim was quickly reaching to grab his phone back from Queen at the time) and for failure to execute a turn signal. There are clearly some racial motives behind the actions of the police officer though, not helped by Slim’s impatience as the officer checks through the contents of his car, and the questioning coming from Queen, who works as a defense attorney and knows their rights. Following a heated exchange, a shot is fired and Queen is left with a flesh wound to her leg. An angered Slim then brawls with the cop and, in what is clearly self defense, shoots and kills the officer. Fearing what will happen to them next and the likelihood of further injustice, they decide to go on the run.
What follows is around 40 minutes of pretty tense drama, unexpectedly peppered with some moments of real humour when as the pair find themselves getting into even more difficult situations. As dash-cam footage from the vehicle of the deceased police officer goes viral, there’s a real sense of urgency and intensity to their predicament, making for a really intense and gripping roller-coaster of a ride. They make it to New Orleans, and a brief stopover at the home of Queen’s Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), and it’s around this point in the movie that momentum gets lost somewhat, never really recovering until the finale.
Written by Lena Waithe (Master of None and Ready Player One), Queen & Slim is clearly a relevant and important movie, boasting a great look and style from director Melina Matsoukas. Daniel Kaluuya is a great choice for Slim too, no stranger to portraying strong emotions with his eyes and facial expressions, as he did so perfectly in his iconic Get Out role. While I wasn’t so keen on Jodie Turner-Smith, the pair did work well together, despite making some questionable character choices at times. When a photo of the pair goes viral, they become a kind of modern day Bonnie & Clyde, hailed as heroes and legends by many as they make their way down towards Florida, where they hope to be able catch a flight to freedom in Cuba. Along the way, their relationship develops and they occasionally find support among the black community in each town they stop at.
But, following that stopover in New Orleans, Queen & Slim becomes much more of a slow meander towards the finish line, and it’s a real noticeable tonal shift and change of pacing from those first 40 minutes or so. People in the cinema became fidgety (including me), some gave up on the movie completely and left the cinema (I’ve done that before, vowed never to do it again though) and all I could think about when they get help from some old friends of Queen’s Uncle was “Is that Needles, from Back to the Future?” (it was).
All of this shouldn’t detract from how important this movie is though, highlighting racial injustice and delving into real issues unashamedly. While Queen & Slim didn’t quite work for me overall, it is certainly a story which deserves to be told and seen by many, getting people talking and hopefully instigating some real change. I’m glad I had the chance to see it, and glad I stuck with it right until the end.