Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A road movie with a political theme

Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya create a memorable duo in Queen & Slim, a movie about a black couple that takes flight after the accidental shooting of a racist cop.
Jodie Turner-Smith brings tons of presence to the screen in Queen & Slim, a drama about a black man and woman who take to the road after they're involved in the accidental killing of a racist cop. Tall and lean, Turner-Smith isn't always behind the wheel but she drives the movie.

As the other half of the fleeing couple, Daniel Kaluuya, familiar from Get Out, has the less showy role. He plays a young man who finds himself mired in a situation that rapidly spins out of control. After the police shooting, Kaluuya's character naively tells Turner-Smith's character that he's not a criminal. You are now, she replies.

Maybe Kaluuya’s character needs to rethink his personalized license plate: It reads, "Trust God."

The two meet on the blind date that opens the movie, which unspools in ways that may remind you of other movies -- from Bonnie & Clyde to Thelma and Louise. But director Melina Matsoukas, working from a screenplay by Lena Waithe, isn't following the customary map. Queen & Slim is a road movie set against a backdrop of racially motivated injustice.

An episodic approach includes a stop in New Orleans where the couple seeks refuge with Turner-Smith's character's uncle (Bokeem Woodbine), a man who lives with several women. Bokeem's character has an improbable backstory that later comes to light.

A white Florida couple (Flea and Chloe Sevigny) adds a late-picture stop. They want to help the couple escape to Cuba where they hope to find safety.

Matsoukas, who directed Beyonce's Formation video, grounds the movie in black community support for the movie's two main characters. They inspire protests proclaiming the sanctity of black lives.

A major miscue involves the way Matsoukas juxtaposes a sex scene between the two protagonists and protests against police brutality.

There may be more going on here than one movie can handle, a story of mismatched love (she’s a no-nonsense attorney; he’s an ordinary guy), a traditional road movie, a cry of social protest and a movie with a taste for anecdotal side trips.

The points in Waithe's screenplay can be made bluntly, a defensible choice considering the subject matter but the movie piles a lot on its plate as it moves toward a finale that you'll probably anticipate before it arrives.

Queen & Slim doesn't always work. I'll say this, though: When shots are fired in Queen & Slim, they carry a violent, harrowing shock. That's more than you can say for lots of movies. This time, the violence is felt.

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