Review: The Book Of Clarence
How Far Would You Go To Prove You're Not A Nobody?
This is a quick review of the newly released film The Book Of Clarence. Keep in mind this is but one of the many movies I watch every year, and that whatever initial grade I come up for this film could change for better or worse with time. To better keep up to date with both my thoughts on other movies and if my feelings on this film changed, follow me on Letterboxd.
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Via Letterboxd: Streetwise but down-on-his-luck, Clarence is struggling to find a better life for his family, while fighting to free himself of debt. Captivated by the power and glory of the rising Messiah and his apostles, he risks everything to carve his own path to a divine life, and ultimately discovers that the redemptive power of belief may be his only way out.
Its been weeks now since I got to sit down and write a formal review for a new 2024 film. Between personal life issues and the heat of industry nominations for last year’s awards season playing out, there was little time to get to one. Not to mention this year’s slate of January films have been pretty woeful with little to get me off from still being in 2023 mode. But thankfully I was able to finally catch up to a new film from Jeymes Samuel that had been released last year as a festival film, but released wide this year. And I figured I’d write down my thoughts on it as it is the first film of the year to be a candidate to break my Top 25 by the end of the season.
Back in 2021, Jeymes Samuel stepped out from the music world and into the world of cinema with his feature debut The Harder They Fall. The Netflix-backed western introduced us to Samuel’s signature style of mixing hip-hop and rap aesthetics with period piece filmmaking. With his second feature, The Book Of Clarence, he does it again but this time tackling a biblical epic rather than the western genre.
I went into this admittedly a tad apprehensive. On one hand faith-based films have been usually horribly executed echo-chamber backed cheap movies that make one cringe more than entertained. On the other hand this could’ve also come off as blasphemous and offensive for a person of Christian faith. To my pleasant surprise it was neither.
While there are plenty liberties done with the story of Jesus and the film does have plenty comedic moments that can take you out of the time period, the story is able to balance out entertainment with a faith-based message that I wasn’t expecting from it based on the marketing. Samuel’s musically inspired style helps it stand out from other would-be “swords and sandals” flicks and I cared about Clarence’s journey from start to finish.
The only major problem I had with the film was that like his previous feature, Samuel’s style does feel like it gets in the way of the material a couple times and the third act does seem to linger around a little longer than it should’ve. There’s also a cameo in here from a really major Hollywood star that seems a bit out of place and which could’ve used some more depth in making his appearance mean more.
Overall I have to say even with some issues that kept me from giving it an A-tier type of grade, Samuel is now two for two in giving me a solid, unique, period film that stands out from the rest in the genre. The Book Of Clarence is a solid B+ for me and will leave January as my early pick for my personal favorite film of the year - so far. I just hope Samuel’s next effort has him try to lean a little less into the style and more into the substance. But other than that, this is the kind of faith-based filmmaking I can get behind of.