Film

Harlem Drama ‘Chapter & Verse’ Finds Life After Prison

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??Chapter & Verse (not to be confused with the Bruce Springsteen album that came out a few months ago) shows how difficult it can be for a dude from the streets to stay away from the streets. For the first half, Daniel Beaty walks the streets of Harlem like a brooding, hulking, blank slate. As fresh-outta-jail ex-con S. Lance Ingram (the “S” stands for “Sir”), Beaty keeps his head down, his mouth shut, and mostly does a lot of chin-ups. (Apparently, this movie is out to remind Harlem residents that those pedestrian crossing lights make for handy chin bars.) He’s so intent on staying out of trouble that he comes off as socially awkward, like he’s afraid anything he says or does could send him right back to the slammer.

But that dead-eyed iciness begins to thaw when Ingram begins delivering food to the apartment of Miss Maddy (Loretta Devine, hamming it up even more than she does on The Carmichael Show) and her grandson Ty (the Jaden Smith–looking Khadim Diop). While their initial meeting is less than cordial — she starts throwing food at Ingram because he’s brought her the wrong order — Ingram becomes a welcome guest in their abode and, eventually, a reliable friend of the family. He builds a computer for Miss Maddy, fixes things around the apartment and tries to keep Ty, who’s already hanging with a gang of neighborhood thugs, on the straight-and-narrow.

It becomes obvious that Ingram is hanging around these two as personal penance for his own years of thugging and bugging. You see, Ingram was once Crazy L from 118th St., a gang leader so notorious that even those young-punk knuckleheads Ty rolls with have to give him respect. Now, he’s living in a halfway house with a curfew and trying his damnedest to leave his past behind him, taking drug tests and hitting the pavement on the regular looking for work (he’s a whiz with computers, but his just-outta-the-joint status obviously clouds potential employers’ judgment).

As much as Chapter‘s creators want to take audiences inside the life of a reformed criminal looking for redemption and purpose, the movie is mostly a wobbly journey. The story, scripted by Beaty and poet/author-turned-filmmaker Jamal Joseph (who himself did five-and-a-half years in Leavenworth) dips into sloppy, melodramatic heavy-handedness, sullying the occasional spurts of fresh perspective.

You might have guessed that Ingram goes from family friend to caretaker once he finds out that Maddy is dying from terminal cancer and refusing medical treatment. (He hooks her up with some weed to help ease the pain.) The pair even throws in some social commentary, as Ingram witnesses all the cellphone-recorded police brutality, criminal activity and community marching that goes on in his neighborhood.

Every well-written moment in which we catch Ingram trying to be an honest man gets undercut by some over-the-top nonsense — don’t get me started on the horny-ass kitchen boss who blackmails him so she can get some. Unfortunately, Chapter ends on a predictable note, as Ingram makes a choice that not only affects him and everyone around him, but that you can see coming a mile away.

Chapter & Verse?

Directed by Jamal Joseph?

Harlem Film Company and Paladin?

Now playing, MIST Harlem?

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