Written by: Adam Vaughn | January 11th, 2024
The Book of Clarence (Jeymes Samuel, 2023) 3½ out of 5 stars*
Director Jeymes Samuel (The Harder They Fall) is no stranger to the use of satire, comedy, and wicked period detail to get his story across on the big screen. With his newest film, Samuel tackles the era of the Bible epic, parodying the beloved aesthetic of films such as The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, and Spartacus. In his film The Book of Clarence, however, the viewer can throw away any familiar narrative conventions and get ready for an immensely modern experience, one which sometimes work, and sometimes doesn’t.
Overall, The Book of Clarence is immensely entertaining. LaKeith Stanfield (Judas and the Black Messiah) shines as the title character, exploring a man without faith who lives only through knowledge and survival skills. The beautiful mixture of ancient Rome mixed with present-day concepts such as blunt smoking, gang relations, and police brutality, gives the film a largely comical approach, whilst incorporating elements of the Bible-epic mise-en-scène as well as pertinent social issues of today. There is also something to be said about Samuel’s main theme, as a once self-absorbed Clarence finds the true meaning of faith and goodness by the end of the story.
As the movie comes to its conclusion, a strange final turning point seems to throw away the previously ironic tone. Whereas almost all of his previous characters and plot points seem to exist in parallel to the story of the Gospel, the final thoughts Samuel has on spirituality and faith do not seem to fit the main character’s dramatic arc. While any person with a Christian background may still feel the impact of the reenactment of Holy Crucifixion, The Book of Clarence ends on a strange note that doesn’t quite satisfy compared to all the satirical comedy it took to get there.
While the film may end awkwardly, overall this new and fresh take on a forgotten genre serves as both an entertaining experience and a proper homage to a powerful time in both human and cinematic history. Combining unique editing choices, a well-rounded set of characters, and a driving musical score (not to mention a fantastic hip-hop album track), The Book of Clarence may not hit every beat but hits most of them with solid rhythm.
*Starting in 2024, all Film Festival Today reviews will now be rated out of 5 stars, rather than the previous 4-star system.