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The Book of Clarence

Updated: Apr 3

Part "The Greatest Story Ever Told", part "The Book of Mormon" yet something boldly and in-your-face unique, THE BOOK OF CLARENCE surprised the hell out of me. Laugh out loud funny and soul stirringly powerful, Jeymes Samuel's creation is one of the most original films I've seen in a long time.

Writer/Producer/Director Samuel (The Harder They Fall) has assembled so many different genres in one coherent, masterful work, you can only buckle up and enjoy the ride.

The opening titles call back to the original, golden bordered, super widescreen titles of Cecil B. DeMillle's "Ten Commandments" as great cinematography, a traditional big orchestral score and seamless effects drop you into a chariot race in Jerusalem.

But it's not Ben Hur, it's Clarence, the ne'er do well twin brother of Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus.

The always brilliant LaKeith Stanfield (Knives Out, Sorry to Bother You, Selma) stars as both Clarence & Thomas (that cant be a mistake). He creates two characters so wholly unique that it's hard to believe he's playing off himself.

Clarence is racing the chariot to win a wager he's made with Mary Magdaline (Tayana Taylor) re imagined as a bad ass woman-about-town who's got Clarence's number. When the bet goes south, he's given notice that he owes the wager and a replacement chariot to Jedidiah the Terrible (Eric Kofi Abrefa) who just happens to be the brother of Clarence's love, Varinia (Anna Diop). Jedediah gives him a month to come up with the sheckles and the chariot or die.

Clarence, more interested in smoking weed with his loyal best friend Elijah (the terrific RJ Cyler from "White Boy Rick") comes up with an ever escalating series of ideas to raise the money.

When he poses as a Messiah to earn cash, he discovers his true calling. But what happens next is as unexpected to Clarence as it was to me. Samuel creates a path that challenges and constantly surprises. In less talented hands, I'd be bitching about too many tonal shifts, but Samuel never lets you go.

As you can imagine, pretending to be a Messiah in 33AD Jerusalem will bring you into the orbit of some of the most famous figures in religious history. Barabbas (Omar Sy), John the Baptist (a hilarious David Oyelowo), Judas Iscariot (a haunting Michael Ward) and Pontius Pilate (a laugh out loud James McAvoy from "X-Men" and "Split"). Jesus (Nicholas Pinnock) plays a major role in the story. His conversation with Jezebel and her husband serves up a huge laugh, delivered so subtly that you almost don't hear it.

One of my favorite scenes is the hilarious exchange between non-believer Clarence and Virgin Mary (Alfre Woodard) and her suffer-no-fools husband Joseph (Brian Bovell).

Benedict Cumberbatch is in the entire film, but not easily seen. His comic timing is unholy.

There are so many scenes with comic timing and dialogue that reminded me of "The Life of Brian" in their irreverence, but Samuel's story carries enormous weight just below its laugh filled exterior.

Like the brilliant "The Book of Mormon" by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, Samuel has crafted a tale so smart that it captures you and pulls you in regardless of your personal view. Like Parker and Stone's master work, its message that falls unto you will very likely be guided by your own faith, lack thereof and personal take on life.

If that sounds heavy, parts of it are. Samuel doesn't shy away from the brutal violence of the time. Blood and pain mix with hope & light in fascinating ways.

Redemption comes in many forms, but I've never seen it earned in as unique a path as witnessed in THE BOOK OF CLARENCE.

This is a superb, one-of-a-kind vision from Jeymes Samuel. Did I mention he also wrote all the music and songs? Superb.

This wont be for everyone, but movies don't get any better than this for me. Whatever you THINK this movie is going to be, it's decidedly not.

An A+ from this view of Calvary.

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