Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim
Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya in Queen & Slim
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SA’s “Bonnie and Clyde” — Facebook Rapist Thabo Bester and his accomplice Nandipha Magudumana — were back in the news this week after their unsuccessful court bid to have a new four-part Showmax documentary about them withdrawn from the air.

And so this week we revisit the enduring popularity and cinematic fascination with outlaw couples. This time around some newer twists and older favourites offer plenty of evidence why movies love a doomed couple on the run from the law.


Thieves Like Us — YouTube

Robert Altman’s 1974 classic is a  subversive piece of genre reinvention from one of 20th-century cinema’s masters of quiet observation and naturalism. Adapted from a novel by Edward Anderson, previously made for screen by Nicholas Ray in the 1949 film They Live by Night, it’s the story of a depression-era Mississippi bank robber,  Bowie (Keith Carradine) who’s on the run from the cops. After a car accident he finds himself recovering in the care of a friend’s sister, Keechie (longtime Altman collaborator Shelley Duvall).

One thing leads to another and Bowie and Keechie soon find themselves partners in crime and outrunning the law yet again. However, Altman is much more interested in what happens in between their bank robbing exploits than the mechanics of their lawbreaking. 

Bowie and Keechie aren’t the bloodthirsty antisocial anti-heroes of Arthur Penn’s 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde. They are two simple, not too bright good people thrown together by circumstance and using crime as a last resort in the face of the insurmountable obstacles of the Great Depression. Like so many other working-class people in America at the time, they’re doing what they have to in order to stay alive.

The result is one of Altman’s most charming and easily engaging films that sheds the cynicism of much of his other 1970s classics in favour of heart and empathy for two very likeable innocents doing their best in a bad world.




Natural Born Killers — Buy from Apple TV +

Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Oliver Stone, this heavy on style, violent media-satire action thriller may seem far tamer now than it did when it opened in 1994 to outrage and controversy. It remains on its own terms, a singularly mad experiment in mostly the best ways.

Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis are white-trash psychopaths Mickey and Mallory Knox, blazing their way across America in a trail of blood and bullets — followed with breathless and disturbingly sexual obsession by Tom Sizemore’s Detective Jack Scagnetti and Robert Downey Jr’s leeringly unethical Australian tabloid TV reporter Wayne Gale.

Using an impressive array of cinematic tricks and techniques, Stone places his homicidal anti-heroes at the centre of a thesis about real-world violence and its relationship to sensationalised media coverage. While it may — in typical Stone fashion — be angrily heavy-handed in its attacks on the media and public hunger for lurid tales of violence, it still holds up as an energetically vivid cinematic experience.

Its own influence on real-world psychopaths would later become the subject of much debate after a copycat couple killed a man in imitation of Mickey and Mallory’s antics. Whether that’s the fault of Stone and his film or the social problem he intended to critique remains a debatable and traumatic subject.




Queen & Slim – Showmax

Written by Lena Waithe and directed by Melina Matsoukas, this smart, urgent film turns the outlaw couple genre on its head by refocusing attention on the circumstances leading to events and how those offer evidence of deep-seated racial prejudice in US law enforcement and its justice system.

Pre-Oscar winning Daniel Kuuluya stars as Slim, on a seemingly good and easily enjoyable first date with potential partner Queen (Jodie Turner-Smith). Matters take an unexpected and lethal turn as Slim drives Queen home when a police officer pulls the couple over for no discernible reason. The situation escalates, ending when in self-defence Slim wrestles the officer’s gun away from him and ends up shooting him dead.

Realising that, as a pair of young black people in America, authorities are unlikely to believe the truth, the couple are now forced into a new, immediately intimate alliance of survival as they make their way across the country, on the run from the law — and the media, who soon get wind of them after a clip of the incident goes viral.

Buoyed by the chemistry and effortlessly cool relationship between its leads, it’s a great piece of genre-reinvention that also serves as a strong piece of activist cinema; made in 2019, when tensions between America’s black citizens and its law enforcement agencies was at boiling point and spilled over to the streets and around the world a year later after the killing of George Floyd. It’s not just an angrily righteous and prescient work, but also one that firmly gives shape and nuance to its representations of black characters and their struggles. It’s an anti-outlaw, outlaw couple film unlike any other.


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