As I mentioned in my review of Ford v Ferrari, I have been lousy at getting to the theater of late. When I started watching Queen & Slim on 4K Ultra HD I was surprised at the events that unfolded. I had an idea of the film in my head, but this is certainly not the film I was expecting. If I figure out what movie I was confusing it for, I will let you guys know. The movie I got is nicely acted and shot, with music and a vibe that reminds me a bit of Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow, albeit with a more somber and controversial subject matter. After an awkward Tinder date, Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) drives home his date, defense attorney Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith). They are stopped by a police officer, and the situation escalates to the point of Slim shooting and killing the officer. The newly acquainted pair knows it is either the road or prison forever, so they choose the former and flee the state of Ohio, seeking refuge where they can find it.
Right off the bat I was torn with Queen & Slim. I do not diminish the timeliness of the white officer and black male traffic stop narrative. I am an attorney that has worked both criminal defense and prosecution, and it is a narrative that continues to haunt our judicial system. Unfortunately, the few but very real bad actors corrupt an entire profession, and I totally understand the conversations being had about law enforcement relations in minority communities. That said, I have been fortunate not to stumble upon an interaction like the one depicted here in my career, which includes the disposition of thousands of cases, and I hope I never do. In fact, my experience on both sides of the courtroom has been quite the opposite. The officer we find here pulls Slim, seemingly without reasonable articulable suspicion or probable cause, but claims his vehicle was weaving. In the instantly aggressive exchange, the officer challenges Slim on his identity, purpose of traveling the road and sobriety. Queen begins filming the encounter on her phone after the officer asks Slim to step out of the vehicle. When the officer finds several boxes of high-end athletic shoes in the trunk, he assumes they are stolen. When Queen gets out to keep filming, the officer fires a round that grazes her leg, causing Slim to reach for the officer's gun and pull the trigger himself.
Ten minutes into Queen & Slim I knew what kind of movie this was going to be. I say I was torn because there are moments of extremely fine acting and some strong interpersonal drama, but the film is also extremely blunt with its themes and virtues, and these characters, by design, are hardly explored until late in the film. In fact, they are borderline unlikeable in the first half hour; constantly bickering as two people brought together by a disastrous Tinder date and police shooting would be. Slim feels his actions were self-defense, but the community does not agree. The pair is almost intercepted by a sheriff's deputy after the story makes national news, but manages to make it to the New Orleans home of Queen's Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), a pimp and drug dealer who lives with several women in a residence that used to belong to both he and Queen's deceased mother. Back on the road thanks to Earl's money and transportation, the pair discovers they are considered heroes by some in the community. They head toward Florida in hopes of hopping a private flight to Cuba, and are assisted by sympathizers and friends, including a white couple (Chloe Sevigny and Flea) who owe Earl a debt of gratitude.
My concern with Queen & Slim is that I am not sure what message it is hoping to send. It suggests that Slim is justified in his actions early on, but draws back from that later in the film. Are viewers supposed to root for these characters or condemn them? The more powerful drama is the film's exploration of how violence begets violence and affects those on both sides of the public opinion. Protests over the manhunt draw violence against people of all races, and even Queen and Slim are concerned about their repercussions. The film actually becomes more successful as it slides into its moody second half, where the pair begins an unconventional love story. Less burdened by the politics and social issues of its first reels, the film finds its groove and the characters are given some TLC. Only then is there some explanation of their predispositions and behavior, at least for Queen, as revelations about her mother's death are powerful. Slim remains a thinly drawn character, but I suspect director Melina Matsoukas, in her directorial debut, intended that to be the case. Even Queen becomes frustrated by his lack of reaction to haven taken a life; but remember, the pair barely knows one another. Both Kaluuya and Turner-Smith give strong performances, and the direction, Tat Radcliffe's cinematography, Devonte Hynes' score and the soundtrack selections are impressive. The ambivalent message here ultimately hindered my enjoyment of Queen & Slim; these themes are often explored, and the movie fails to bring much new to the table. There is talent in front of and behind the camera, but the pieces never quite come together to form an impactful whole.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
The film arrives with a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 transfer with HDR10 that is upscaled from a 2K digital intermediate. The image is nicely detailed, with strong texture and fine-object replication. Wide shots are crisp and clear, especially when the pair travels across well-lit Southern roadways. The 4K image improves noticeably on color reproduction and black levels; pops of color are impressively bold, and blacks are completely inky and gorgeously deep. There is no loss of shadow detail or delineation, and the entire film looks excellent in motion. Depth and clarity are strong, skin tones accurate and highlights are kept in check.
I sampled the included Dolby Atmos mix as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, and the results are impressive. This dialogue-heavy film is supported fully by this mix, whether the dialogue comes from the center channel or pans into the surrounds. The few action effects, like gunfire, ricochet around the sound field, and the subwoofer comes alive with furious rumbles. The soundtrack selections are most impressive, and blend well with crowd noise and other ambient effects. A Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray and a digital copy code. The discs come in a standard 4K case that is wrapped in a slipcover with striking artwork. Bonus features include an Audio Commentary by Director/Producer Melina Matsoukas and Writer/Producer Lena Waithe; A Deeper Meaning (5:55/4K), about the characters and their identities; Melina & Lena (4:58/4K), with comments from the director and producer; Off the Script (3:17/4K), which is a script reading; and On the Run with Queen & Slim (4:33/4K), a brief behind-the-scenes piece.
Handsomely shot and well-acted, Queen & Slim waivers in its convictions, and presents a controversial narrative that is often less successful than its unconventional love story. There is much talent on display here but few characters to root for, and the end result is more provocative than satisfying. Rent It.