The Book of Clarence Review
The Book of Clarence (2023) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Jeymes Samuel and starring LaKeith Stanfield, Omar Sy, Anna Diop, RJ Cyler, David Oyelowo, Micheal Ward, Alfre Woodard, Teyana Taylor, Caleb McLaughlin, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chase Dillon, Nicholas Pinnock, Babs Olusanmokun and Chidi Ajufo.
Jeymes Samuel’s ambitious new religion-inspired film, The Book of Clarence, starts off as something of a dark comedy until it eventually turns into a heavy, profound take on the complexities of human life–at any given period in history. This movie is, surprisingly, accessible to a wide range of viewers who will come to the movie with or without their own personal religious views.
The inspiration of the crucifixion and rising of Jesus Christ has been used in many film projects over the years but, this time out, Samuel isn’t trying to state the obvious with the tale he tells here. Instead, Samuel uses the central character of Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield has never been better) to show the desperation, joys and sorrows of the human experience.
You wouldn’t think that this film would work as a love story but it actually does as it shows the passion Clarence has for the character named Varinia (Anna Diop) who inspires Clarence in many of the choices he makes throughout the picture. Clarence is motivated by his love for Varinia and that helps propel the plot forward.
As the film’s main story begins, Clarence, a hustler with a friend named Elijah (RJ Cyler), owes some money to the shady Jedediah the Terrible (well played by Eric Kofi-Abrefa). Varinia just happens to be Jedediah’s sister. Clarence wants to become a fake “Messiah” to free himself from the consequences of his poor life choices. He wants to fake it until he makes it, so to say. Micheal Ward plays Judas who gets Clarence “in over his head” even more which leads Clarence to fighting the huge Barabbas (Omar Sy) who soon becomes an integral part of the plot.
Omar Sy is excellent as Barabbas. This character has one of the more vicious scenes in the picture centered on him. Three spears are eventually thrown at him and end up hitting him in various parts of his body. Sy captures the bigger than life essence of his character perfectly and is one of the highlights of the movie. When he starts to pull a spear out of his body, it’s a crowd-pleasing moment to be sure.
There are many more actors and actresses sprinkled in this picture. A notable performance is that of Alfre Woodard who plays the Virgin Mary. Woodard doesn’t get too much screen time in the picture but delivers her lines with terrific aplomb which makes her one of the most intriguing aspects of The Book of Clarence. The amazing Teyana Taylor is also in the picture as Mary Magdalene. Nicholas Pinnock ably plays Jesus and there are many other performances that stand out considerably. David Oyelowo has a humorous role as John the Baptist who slaps Clarence at a key point in the movie.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s part as a man called Benjamin, who is filthy then cleansed then ultimately crucified, isn’t so funny even though he is employed as comic relief late in the picture. On the other hand, James McAvoy, as Pontius Pilate, effectively captures the essence of his crucial role in the movie as well. In addition, the young Chase Dillon, as Cabbage, who grows emotionally involved in the action, is also noteworthy.
This picture works best in its scenes between Stanfield and Diop. Though their interaction isn’t a major portion of the film, one can feel the passion which Clarence possesses for Varinia. Diop also creates a compelling character that finally gets to interact with Clarence towards the end with moving results. Diop is an actress to keep an eye on thanks to her superb work in the picture. Stanfield creates truly deep emotions in his characterization as Clarence eventually suggests that most people are just trying to get by and probably winging their way through life which feels relatable as a concept.
Though brutal, the crucifixion scenes towards the end are strangely moving despite the fact that Cumberbatch seems oddly placed in the action. I get the joke the filmmakers wanted to convey (a character in the crowd is sketching Benjamin) but the presence of Cumberbatch sort of takes away a little from the emotional punch the movie delivers in the late scenes within the picture.
The Book of Clarence, which is told in three parts, is redeemed by its powerful message of hope even though it feels like it’s going through its paces at certain intervals just to cover as much biblical ground as possible. Stanfield, who also plays his twin brother, Thomas in the film, commands the audience’s attention throughout the movie with his heartfelt and, at times, funny performance. This movie also marks the considerable talent of filmmaker Jeymes Samuel who takes a lot of huge risks here and comes off as more successful than not when considering the gravity of the themes he faces fearlessly throughout the picture. I recommend it.
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