Keith’s Movie Korner: ‘The Book of Clarence’ is not much of a page turner

By Keith Walther | Rose Law Group Reporter

A slowly developing story and a conflicted identity detract from an otherwise terrific performance from its star, LaKeith Stanfield. “The Book of Clarence” begins as an amusing biblical comedy meant to be taken very lightly and then scraps these efforts midway through to become a serious drama with racial undertones. Both identities had potential, but the lack of commitment to either one leaves this film in the realm of forgettability.

Life has been very difficult for the disillusioned Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) as he struggles to find his place in the world and earn enough money to support himself and his mother (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). His twin brother Thomas (LaKeith Stanfield) happens to be one of Jesus Christ’s (Nicholas Pinnock) disciples. When Clarence makes a big gamble and loses, he has only 30 days to pay off his debts or lose his life, and his righteous brother refuses to help a non-believer.

So, Clarence hatches a scheme with his friends Elijah (RJ Cyler) and Barabbas (Omar Sy) to convince the people of Jerusalem that he is also a messiah. Fabricating miracles like the ones Jesus had been performing, Clarence accepts donations as he fills people with false hope. He faces a difficult decision ahead of whether to continue with the charade for his own self-interests or listen to his growing conscience and come clean before it’s too late.

English writer/director Jeymes Samuel shows definite talent and promise as a filmmaker, but he does make some rookie mistakes with “The Book of Clarence.” He sets a light tone early with some humor by incorporating some modern mentality and language into this biblical setting, making the audience feel some Mel Brooks or “Year One” type of comical vibes. The sudden shift of gears into something much more emotional and dramatic leaves the audience out of sync and despondent. This also slows the pacing of the film to a crawl and its sluggishness is fatiguing. Samuel incorporates the chapter break technique to help combat this and provide a clearer structure, but it is only minimally effective. He makes a half-hearted attempt to include a romantic subplot but falls completely flat with underdeveloped side characters. However, he does integrate a rather powerful message that may hit home if viewers are invested enough by the time it is revealed.

Leading the strong cast is LaKeith Stanfield, an Oscar nominee for his supporting role in 2021’s “Judas and the Black Messiah.” This is a scene stealing actor with seemingly limitless talent who has now proven he can put a movie on his shoulders in a starring role. At first his performance is reminiscent of Cleavon Little in “Blazing Saddles,” providing some dry witty humor in a humorless type of setting. As the movie progresses, Stanfield really shows his incredible range from being an action star with gladiatorial fight scenes to a brilliant dramatic actor with emotionally intense scenes. If this wasn’t enough, he also portrays his character’s twin brother, who is much more rigid in his religious beliefs and righteousness. This is only the beginning for this emerging star, expect to see him more and more as a leading man in film.

This film also benefits from veteran stars playing small yet memorable roles. Like David Oyelowo supplying a humorous portrayal as John the Baptist, or Alfre Woodard in the role of the Virgin Mary, or James McAvoy as the antagonistic Pontius Pilate. However, Benedict Cumberbatch playing a dirty, destitute wanderer who gets a hilarious makeover later in the film is heads and tails above the rest.

Overall, this is a fairly decent film not worth the price of a theater ticket but worth streaming at home. “The Book of Clarence” has some funny moments, some action-packed moments, some melodramatic moments but excels in none of them enough to make it more impactful. A much more focused identity could have made this film great.

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