Melina Matsoukas’ directorial debut, Queen & Slim, is a devastating drama about a couple thrust into the spotlight after a traffic stop gone wrong. At least, that’s one way to read it.
Another way is that the screenplay from Lena Waithe (Showtime’s “The Chi”) — from a story she co-created with author James Fray (A Million Little Pieces) — is a poetic exploration of systemic racism and how, despite terrible losses, life continues and the cycle never breaks.
However you read the film, it’s undeniably a time bomb, one whose explosion you’re never quite prepared for.
As the film rarely shows any other perspective than the eponymous, pseudonymous leads, the ever-capable Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith carry the bulk of Queen & Slim, crafting performances that form the energetic center around which everything revolves.
Their relationship is a forced one, born out of fire and necessity rather than time. As such, there’s a natural anxiety between the two, and, unable to turn to anyone else for support, they experience a terrible isolation. Even when the pair do find some kind of support, it’s minimal and fleeting.
Across the six days of the film’s story — from the pair’s meeting to the traffic stop and everything that follows — there’s a relentlessness that slowly seeps out of the screen and into the audience. Over time, it elevates the rising, bittersweet inevitability of Queen & Slim with a power that will shake viewers to their core.