From the Archives: Queen & Slim should be as legendary as Bonnie and Clyde

From the Archives: Queen & Slim should be as legendary as Bonnie and Clyde

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.

Originally posted on Cinema76.

Everybody knows the story of Bonnie and Clyde, the two young lovers who took depression-era America on a rollicking road chase that ended in a blaze of gunfire. Sure, they got involved in some pretty nefarious stuff, but who could blame them, right? At a time when people could barely afford to feed themselves, let alone their families, it only seems logical that two dreamers would try something extreme, like armed robbery, to get themselves a leg up in the world. And if all else fails, well, at least they’ll get to become legends in the process. Throw in an excellent New Hollywood re-telling of their story and their status as folk heroes is now flawlessly woven into the fabric of Americana.

The thing is, the REAL Bonnie and Clyde kinda sucked. They were both uneducated, crass, dirty kids who, even with heaps of unfortunate circumstantial motivations, were not even remotely hero material. And if you really do the research, they were comically bad at robbery. In fact, the only reason they have any notoriety at all is that they were smart enough to take a few pictures of their journey. Those pictures made the rounds of nationwide newspapers, who helped turn these sloppy wannabe criminals into romantic thieves with clinical technique — a duo of surrogates onto which the angry, spinach-hording American masses could project their own frustrations, truth be damned.

We can look back in our history and see plenty of examples of criminals whose misdeeds are paved over by a romanticized image, coupled with common refrains like “Dillinger didn’t steal from people like us, just the bigwigs at the bank.” The thing is, most of the criminals who we’ve made into folk heroes share one obvious trait…

Actually, let’s say this another way. Criminals that we choose not to romanticize share one obvious trait: they aren’t white.


It’s a conversation as old as law enforcement itself. What prejudices do we bring to the table when assessing the deeds and misdeeds of those on society’s chopping block? Moreover, what power do these prejudices have in affecting the process of law enforcement? What responsibility do we have, as members of a just society, to process the fallout from the excesses of authority?

Queen & Slim wrestles with all of this over its lengthy runtime, and while it’s not subtle with its messaging, it’s all couched in such delicious melodrama that it works. And the fact that this is a movie told from the point of view of members of the black community, what could have been a more socially conscious riff on True Romance feels instead like something brand new. For that alone, Queen & Slim is worth checking out.

Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) and Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) are two strangers on a Tinder date. She’s a social justice-minded attorney who swiped right (or left – I don’t know how Tinder works, having not been single since before its inception) simply because she’s been having a bad day and needs some company. He’s a more laid back type. More religious too, given the lengthy prayer he silently recites before diving into a plate of eggs which, as Queen points out, isn’t even what he ordered. This isn’t a concern for Slim, who tells Queen that he and the waitress are friends, and that she’s dealing with life struggles big enough to explain her messing up his order.

It’s a perfect distillation of the two disparate personalities being presented. Queen is the type to demand what she is owed. Slim is the type to give everyone else the benefit of the doubt. Both are interested in what’s right, but their methodologies clash. Needless to say, the date is not going well, and before long the duo is ready to call it a night. Unfortunately for them, the night is particularly young. When the non-lovers are pulled over by a white cop aggressively looking to make this routine stop anything but, things spiral out of control fast, creating a life or death situation in which the most logical way out is also the most criminal.

What follows is a long-form road movie where our titular duo traverses the Deep South with a nation of cops on their tail. They meet an expansive cast of characters including Queen’s troubled (and hilarious) Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), an ex-con with a heart of gold (Flea), and an inspiring parade of black civilians who help Queen and Slim on their journey, based in a sense of community that hopes to silently subvert the narrative being put forth by the news and the powerful people who control it.


At just over two hours in length, Queen & Slim loses is footing temporarily, causing a slight pacing issue. With the opening scenes being so explosive and breathless, when it comes time to do some character work and expand the story beyond just the two main characters, the pumping of the brakes is felt. It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but your mileage may vary (one gentlemen in the theater uttered a loud “BO-RINGGGG” midway through act two, to which I say “Shut your dumb mouth”). I, myself, admittedly felt the lag, but it’s a lag retroactively earned by the emotional, thematically resonant ending. I’d love to cut 20 minutes from the film…but I wouldn’t know where to make my snips.

Director Melina Matsoukas comes from the world of music videos, and while this is usually an indicator of a director not afraid to liberally apply visual flair, that’s not the case here. There’s a maturity defined by the lack of a sharp visual edge. In effect, Matsoukas stylistically creates multiple movies within just the one. The tight, B-movie aesthetic of the exploitation-esque opening. The increasing colorfulness and soft focus of act two, as the film moves into romance territory. The real-world-by-way-of-folk-fantasy dusty oaken tone of the final stretch. Disparate in every way, but these tonal/visual shifts are as organic as they are bold. Cinematographer Tat Radcliffe (White Boy Rick, ‘71) lights the skin tone of a racially diverse cast perfectly. As I understand it, this is not the easiest task, and it’s one that is only recently becoming a common concern. Cool.

Even though neither Queen nor Slim are real-life people, the message they represent holds true. Why is it that we give some criminals the benefit of the doubt, whereas for others we always assume the worst? Bonnie and Clyde wantonly hurt others, but Queen and Slim are merely victims of circumstance. As the latter work to escape the long, racist arm of the law, they must lean on the kindness and faith of others who find themselves also disenfranchised by ‘the man’ — those who must regularly deal with the fact that “criminal” doesn’t always mean “wrong.”

Queen and Slim opens in Philly theaters today.

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