The Book Of Clarence Review

The Book Of Clarence
Clarence (LaKeith Stanfield) is a hustler trying to make his way through ancient Judea, avoiding his debtors and caring for his ailing mum (Marianne Jean-Baptiste). After his elder twin Thomas (also Stanfield) becomes a disciple of Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock), Clarence wonders if Messiah-ing is the way to fame and fortune…

by Helen O’Hara |
Published on
Release Date:

19 Apr 2024

Original Title:

The Book Of Clarence

What if someone remade The Life Of Brian, but with a tone that skids from Sunday school awe to Friday schtick? And not even a Good Friday. Jeymes Samuel’s follow-up to his stylish debut The Harder They Fall looks glossy, and like that Western has an impressively stacked cast of major name talent. Unfortunately, it engages in a madcap quest to reference better sword-and-sandal movies endlessly, and never finds its own point.

The Book Of Clarence

An air of artificiality is immediately apparent, with LaKeith Stanfield’s Clarence engaging in a Fast & Furious-style chariot race with Mary Magdalene (Teyana Taylor). Ben-Hur this ain’t: just two idiots riding roughshod through the streets of Jerusalem. Later there’s a quasi-dope smoking scene where people breathe in and literally float into the air, a magical realist flourish that Samuel never fully commits to.

Deeper in debt than ever, Clarence decides to get in on the religious action via his brother, the disciple Thomas (also Stanfield). His efforts are initially disastrous, though he manages to befriend a gladiator (Omar Sy) who he picks up after a sub-Ridley Scott kerfuffle.

This sermon on the mount is trying to shout ten things at once, and ultimately speaking to no-one.

As Clarence considers declaring himself a messiah, the tone skews from broad attempts at humour to political sermonising to attempted sincerity and back again. Those politics are deeply odd: the Biblical riffs may get heads nodding from audience members with a religious background, but they will appal regular churchgoers. In a film that thoroughly (and rightly) denounces the whitewashing of Biblical epics, it’s odd to see no acknowledgement that this cast is not Middle Eastern/North African either, or to see crowds of “gypsies” portrayed as aggressive troublemakers.

There’s a pantomime villain turn from James McAvoy as Pontius Pilate, hammering home a Roman empire-as-white-supremacy metaphor. But a last-act swerve into sincerity only heightens the sense that this sermon on the mount is trying to shout ten things at once, and ultimately speaking to no-one.

With a cast this talented there will always be decent moments, but they never cohere. Credit for its casting and design, but it’s not the movie messiah, just a very disappointing mess.
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