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Review: Striking 'Queen & Slim' a charged romance against a fiery backdrop

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star in intense debut feature from Melina Matsoukas

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A Tinder date becomes an epic road trip through America's race and class divide in "Queen & Slim," a stunner of a debut feature from director Melina Matsoukas and a worthy successor to lovers-on-the-run tales such as "Bonnie and Clyde" and "True Romance." 

Matsoukas, who did Beyoncé's "Formation" video and her "Lemonade" special, crafts a knockout romance with an overarching theme of police brutality that reverberates throughout today's America. Her target isn't your head, it's your heart, and she hits a bull's-eye.    

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith in "Queen & Slim."

Daniel Kaluuya is Slim, a mild-mannered Cleveland man — he has a TRUSTGOD license plate — on a first date with Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith, a revelation) at a diner. Things are going no better than okay. But they get much worse on their way home when they're pulled over by a hostile police officer.

After a tense interaction, the officer pulls his gun and shoots Queen in the leg. Slim wrestles with the cop and, in self-defense, shoots and kills the officer. That sends Queen and Slim fleeing and trying to figure out their next move while a manhunt commences around them. 

The script by Lena Waithe sends our duo down through the South and on to New Orleans, where they meet up with Queen's uncle Earl (a scene-stealing Bokeem Woodbine). While on the run, dash cam footage of the cop killing goes viral, turning Queen and Slim, overnight, into cultural icons.

"Queen & Slim" plays with that very iconography, showing how it helps and hurts the black community. Meanwhile, Matsoukas effectively conveys the freedom of the road and juxtaposes it against the tightening grip of the law, turning Queen and Slim's story into a race against time. 

"Queen & Slim" plays out like a fable, but its rooting in the real world gives it a powerful emotional resonance. It makes bold narrative choices but backs them up with confidence, so there's never any questioning Matsoukas' vision. She's delivered a potent love story for our times. 

'Queen & Slim'


Rated R: for violence, some strong sexuality, nudity, pervasive language, and brief drug use

Running time: 132 minutes