From ‘True Romance’ to ‘Badlands’, criminal lovers on the run have found safe haven on movie screens. Now Melina Matsoukas – a visually gifted filmmaker best known for Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ video – adds to the canon with this atmospheric, impressively serious debut drama. Playing characters that are unnamed throughout the movie, Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya find themselves pulled over, post-first date, by a virulently racist cop. One struggle over a gun later and they’re on the lam, uncertain of what to do.
Investing their roles with thoughtfulness, both leads do fine work, even when the situation pushes them toward bad decisions or stereotypes (in one inspired costume choice, the outlaws don trashy clothes provided by a relative – a track suit and a miniskirt). A socially angry film, ‘Queen & Slim’ strikes intentional resonances with the 2014 racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere, making no apology for its antiheroes’ behaviour. It’s an invigorating stance. But for every ‘Thelma & Louise’-like magic-hour drive into the sunset (and there are several too many), you wish the movie also had the sophistication to nick from that classic script’s complex sense of injustice – one that had room for a subplot involving a sympathetic lawman. Believe in Matsoukas, though: she’s the real deal.