Reginald Hudlin’s “Marshall” will never serve as the definitive Thurgood Marshall movie but does offer a modestly engaging and entertaining, if occasionally unfocused, examination of a moment in Marshall’s early career. Hudlin, along with screenwriters Jacob Koskoff and Michael Koskoff, opt for a snapshot view of Marshall, forgoing the standard cradle-to-the-grave biopic structure.
Chadwick Boseman stars as Marshall. The movie begins early on in Marshall’s career, where he is overseeing cases for the NAACP. Marshall is good at what he does and radiates cool and confidence is every case he takes on.
The movie centers around one case, where Marshall must travel to Connecticut, only to be entirely unwelcome at just about every turn. He is ordered not to speak in the courtroom by the less-than-subtle racist judge (James Cromwell), forcing Marshall’s bumbling partner, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), to do most of the talking. Friedman is an insurance lawyer daunted by the idea of trying a criminal case, but the ever-calm Marshall scripts every word that needs to come out of Friedman’s mouth.
The movie gets bogged down in court room drama trappings, taking us through the case of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), who is on trial for rape and the attempted murder of Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson, in an extreme pearl-clutching supporting turn). Joseph, who works for Strubing and her husband, stands by his innocence and Marshall fights day-and-night to prove that Joseph is telling the truth.
“Marshall” doesn’t dive too deep into the times – which could have made for a much for effective movie – but grazes the surface through stereotypes to present oppression. Cromwell, a terrific character actor, plays the one-note bigoted judge, while Dan Stevens grandstands as the prosecutor who has his own sets of biases. There are moments within the courtroom that are likely to spark a bit of outrage, but the movie shies away and quickly moves on.
Keeping everything together is Boseman, who plays Marshall with great confidence. Boseman remains a relative newcomer to movies – though “Black Panther” is likely to catapult him next year – who portrays these historical figures by embodying them. If you haven’t seen “Get on Up,” one of the great biopics in recent years, it’s worth checking out for Boseman’s interpretation of James Brown.
You’re unlikely to leave “Marshall” feeling like you know who this influential figure is (we learn more about him through the title cards at the end than the movie) but Boseman gives it his all. The movie focuses more on the partnership with Friedman than anything else, which can be entertaining, but not always enlightening.
|Summary||This snapshot view of an early case in Thurgood Marshall's career features a confident performance by Chadwick Boseman but fails to provide much insight into this influential figure.|