Worse is to follow. He comes from a close and loving family who have done nothing to improve his wardrobe, while she’s stylishly dressed for her job as a criminal defence attorney. What’s more, her mood is bleak. Her latest client has just been sentenced to death.
This is why, she tells him, she has sought company instead of going home to an evening alone with a glass of wine. And so, you turn to Tinder, he replies with a flash of humour that’s enough to make you warm to him.
It’s a welcome touch because she’s sounding more like a construct than a character – a highly educated black woman with a well-founded grudge against the justice system which is already being flagged as a key plot point.
It doesn’t take long to play out. He offers to drive her home, she accepts and he’s still hoping for the best – despite her disdain for his taste in music – when a patrol car pulls them over.
The policeman is aggressive and Slim is trying to stay calm when Queen starts stridently demanding the officer’s badge number. He becomes enraged and shoots her in the leg. In the scuffle that follows, Slim, in fear for his life, disarms him and shoots him dead.
When he tries to turn himself in, she won’t hear of it. Displaying unbelievable aplomb in dealing with her bullet wound, she insists that their only choice is to go on the run.
It doesn’t quite convince. Apolitical with much to lose, he gives in to her too easily. But after they take off, their flight turns into a surprisingly persuasive odyssey. As you travel with them into America’s disparate black communities, numerous parallels are made with the Underground Railroad, which helped runaway slaves smuggle themselves to freedom before the Civil War, and you begin to see her point – that a large part of black America has lost all faith in the US’s legal system.
That makes it sound dry, which it isn’t. Matsoukas, and screenwriter Lena Waithe, take care to retain the intimacy of the opening. The couple’s first stop, at the home of Queen’s flamboyant Uncle Earl (Bokeem Woodbine), is an example, doing more than simply supply a few essential clues to her background. It climaxes in a transformative moment which crystallises their predicament in an unexpectedly poignant way. Having done their best to change their appearance, they confront their new selves with a mixture of fear and distaste, as if comprehending for the first time what they have done and what they have lost.
But once they’re back on the road, resuming a journey which will take them from Ohio to the Florida Keys, the changes start to feel like a liberation. There’s a scene in which Slim briefly abandons his customary caution to take Queen onto the dance floor in a roadside bar. It’s fun – an unexpected break from the main game tossed in with a cheekiness that recalls Uma Thurman and John Travolta’s routine in Pulp Fiction, but instead of the irony and swagger, it’s infused with a tender eroticism.
In the end, the trip becomes both exploration and interrogation. All sides of the argument are canvassed and although no conclusion is reached beyond the basic one – that violence is always futile – they shape the narrative into a thoroughly moral tale told with great flair.
Sandra Hall is a film critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.