MOVIE REVIEW: Final chapter sinks ‘Book of Clarence’

Published 10:39 am Monday, February 12, 2024

“The Book of Clarence” rolls along well enough for about 95% of the film.

Writer/director Jeymes Samuel’s follow-up to his highly entertaining feature film debut “The Harder They Fall” seems to be taking the same path — bringing a style to the biblical epic similar to what Samuel did for Westerns in “Fall.”

That makes it that much more disappointing when “Clarence” completely comes off the rails in the final act — a film where the jarring tone switches finally become too much. As a result “Clarence” is a wildly creative swing that ultimately misses the mark.

The film tells the story of Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield), a street hustler in Jerusalem in 33 AD trying to build a better life for his ailing mother (Alfre Woodard). When his latest get-rich scheme leaves him owing money to local gangster Jedediah (Eric Kofi-Abrefa).

With his best friend Elijah (RJ City) by his side, Clarence hatches a plan to join his brother Thomas (also played by Stanfield) as one of Jesus’ 12 apostles. When that doesn’t come to fruition quite like he planned Clarence sets out to proclaim himself the new Messiah — a scheme that eventually leaves the atheist questioning his personal beliefs.

By putting Clarence’s story right in the middle of the story of Jesus, Samuel has created a film that really is at odds with itself. While having such talented actors as David Oyelowo and Teyana Taylor play John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene proves to be inspired casting it also presents a tonal imbalance with “Clarence” uncertain whether it’s a comedy or a biblical drama or perhaps both.

You also get James McAvoy in a small but effective role, channeling his inner Russell Crowe, playing a Roman soldier as well as good work from Omar Sy as a slave who becomes Clarence’s ally.

Even as the tone feels a little wonky early on Samuel takes the audience on a spiritual journey that is quite effective and creative. Then right as it gets to the finish line it falls completely apart, with the story almost afraid to take a stand of what it truly wants to be.

Samuel takes some creative risks, much like he did in “The Harder They Fall,” that should be applauded and the cast is so good that “Clarence” stays intriguing up until the fatal final act.

But a couple of creative decisions late in the film manage to undermine all that has proceeded those moments. They really hinder the effectiveness of the film while also emphasizing the biggest weakness in “The Book of Clarence.” It’s a film that struggles to find an appropriate tone and as a result falls just short of its lofty intentions.

Grade: C. Reviewed by Micheal Compton, Bowling Green Daily News.