The American dream suddenly and frighteningly turns into a nightmare within the first fifteen minutes of this Bonnie and Clyde-style drama. The opening moments could be from a completely different movie: cynical, strong-willed lawyer Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith) meets laid-back, spiritual Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) for a Tinder date. The diner rendezvous is unremarkable, but the drive home is horrifying. Stopped by a police officer, an innocent remark by Slim leads to a gun being drawn, a scuffle, and Slim killing the officer in self-defence. Their destinies now intertwined, the barely acquainted pair go on the run from the police, in a story that will ignite long-held racial tensions in the country.
What follows is a thoughtful road movie, taking in the perceptions of everyone Queen and Slim meet on their journey. To some, there’s no smoke without fire; if they did nothing wrong, then why are they running? To others, they are folk heroes who stood up for the oppressed and refused to bend to the will of a racist system. In reality, our heroes are living on their wits, forced into a situation they had no desire to be in, and are completely unprepared to deal with. It’s a frightening fable about how, in a broken system, an online date can become a run for your life in an instant.
While this is a worst-case scenario, none of what transpires feels sensationalised. Anyone who has read the headlines coming out of America will hear echoes of many recent controversies in this story. It’s also helped by incredible performances from Turner-Smith and Kaluuya. They make you believe in their bond, that extraordinary circumstances can push two people who seem ill-suited at first, and make them each other’s legacy. Of the people they meet on the way, Bokeem Woodbine stands out as Uncle Earl, a charismatic pimp with a link to Queen’s past. Flanked by his ‘employees’, he is engrossing as the ruler of his own secluded kingdom. It’s the type of short but powerful performance that makes the road movie genre so engaging.
Queen and Slim may drift a little bit in the middle, inserting odd moments of contemplation that disrupt the rhythm of the movie. However, that’s a small complaint in a movie that feels vital for this day and age, sending a message that this fictional situation could become reality if change does not happen.
Edition 6 March, by James Luxford