Director Jeymes Samuel reunites with LaKeith Sanfield for his latest film, The Book of Clarence, from Legendary Pictures. Samuel is also the writer of the film's screenplay. The film is set in A.D. 33 Jerusalem with a story that revolves around Clarence (played by Stanfield), who is struggling in life. He spends most of his days hanging out with Elijah (played by R.J. Cyler) and dreams of having a romantic relationship with a local woman (Anna Diop). Unfortunately, she is the sister of Jedediah The Terrible (played by Eric Kofi-Abrefa), to whom Clarence owes a debt.
In his village, Clarence is not taken seriously due to his reputation as a hack. It doesn't help that his twin brother, Thomas (also played by Stanfield), is one of the apostles, so Clarence has much to live up to. Additionally, Clarence is an atheist and skeptical of Jesus (played by Nicholas Pinnock), who is said to be capable of performing miracles. Clarence believes that one cannot out-hustle a hustler. To pay off his debt, Clarence becomes a new messiah and soon discovers that to carve his path to divine life, sometimes that journey requires a little faith.
When I sat down to write my thoughts on this film, I considered the various perspectives surrounding it. The trailer generated buzz and debates, already shaping audience expectations. Knowing the director's unique style, I hoped for a rich and multi-faceted story and was eager to see if it would live up to the intriguing promotional material.
To my delight, within the first twenty minutes of the film, I was treated to a spectacular opening credit sequence that felt like a throwback to the biblical epics of the 1950s. It is followed by a haunting scene of a man being crucified and ends with an exhilarating chariot race where the always enjoyable Teyana Taylor eludes black girl magic. All of that said, there is a LOT that goes on in the film, and some of the narrative choices that Samuel makes may deter some viewers as we never know where it's going next.
That said, it's clear that the film is about how the director views his faith and what he thinks may have happened at that time. Oscar Nominee LaKeith Stanfield continues to validate his status as one of the best actors of his generation while the supporting cast of melanin talents such as Omar Sy, David Oyelowo, Michael Ward, and Teyana Taylor bring biblical figures to life. While the film has a predominantly Black cast, British actors James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch also appear in crucial supporting roles.
Overall, I was thoroughly impressed with the film and its tone as I sought additional research from scholars and family members more versed in religion than myself. From what I know, I commend Samuel's attention to detail, stunning visuals, and bringing out the best in his nuanced cast.
Final Grade: B+
The Book of Clarence opens in theaters tomorrow.