'Chapter & Verse': Film Review
An ex-con tries to start a new life in Jamal Joseph's gritty urban drama.
Resonating with an authenticity borne of the experiences of its director/co-screenwriter Jamal Joseph, Chapter & Verse movingly portrays the plight of a recently released ex-con striving to make a new life for himself on the mean streets of Harlem. Featuring a superb lead performance by acclaimed theater performer Daniel Beaty in his screen debut, the film handles its admittedly familiar themes in uncommonly sensitive fashion.
Beaty, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays the central role of Lance, who has just been released from prison after serving eight years. Although Lance has taken the opportunity while incarcerated to learn computer repair, he soon discovers that finding a job exploiting his new skills is impossible. Living in a halfway house under the supervision of a tough but fair parole officer (Gary Perez), he takes a job at a food pantry where his duties include delivering meals.
In the course of his duties, he meets “Ms. Maddy” (Loretta Devine), although their first encounter doesn’t go well when she throws food at him because it includes ingredients to which she’s allergic. But the two soon strike up a close friendship, one that comes to include her 15-year-old grandson Ty (Khadim Diop), who seems destined to follow in Lance’s footsteps toward a life of crime.
Acutely observing the contradictions of modern-day Harlem — Lance encounters yuppies buying million-dollar apartments, even while gunshots still ring out with abandon — the film includes many touching moments. One of the more memorable depicts Lance’s encounter with an older man, stoned out of his mind on booze or drugs, who is revealed to be his father.
The film threatens to veer into melodramatic territory with the revelation that Ms. Maddy is terminally ill and wants Lance to use his skills with machines to help her kill herself. But the subplot is handled in delicate fashion, which unfortunately can’t be said of the one involving Lance being sexually harassed by his female boss (Selenis Leyva). The latter plot development does, at least, lead to one of the most amusing scenes, in which Lance creatively gets himself out of the situation with the help of his strapping best friend (Omari Hardwick).
Circling back to its early moments, the film ends on a simultaneously tragic and uplifting note that exemplifies its thoughtful approach. The performances are first-rate: The underplaying Beaty compellingly conveys his character’s innate decency while hinting at the emotional turmoil underneath, and Devine is, as usual, funnily sassy but also moving as the elderly woman with whom Lance forms an unlikely friendship.
Production companies: The Bubble Factory, Harlem Film Company
Cast: Daniel Beaty, Loretta Devine, Omari Hardwick, Selenis Leyva, Marc John Jeffries, Khadim Diop
Director: Jamal Joseph
Screenwriters: Jamal Joseph, Daniel Beaty
Producers: Cheryl Hill, Jonathan Sanger
Executive producers: Nick Bobrov, Shane Connell, Jonathan Fassberg, Edith Fassberg, Nikolai Lyustiger, Bill Sheinberg, Jonathan Sheinberg, Sid Sheinberg, Walter Thurmond III
Director of photography: John Wakayama Carey
Production designer: Annie Simeone
Editor: Joel Davenport
Costume designer: Robin Newland
Casting: Ferne Cassel