Marshall: Educational & Entertaining
Fast-rising actor, Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, 2017), sure has his historical portrayals down. After playing baseball great, Jackie Robinson in 42 (2013) and musician James Brown in Get on Up (2014), he takes on the role of an NAACP lawyer and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall. Not surprisingly, he is naturally convincing in this role as well.
In the historical drama, Marshall, directed by Reginal Hudlin and written by father-son team Michael and Jacob Koskoff, the plot centers on the true story of the 1941 courtroom drama that is not widely known, but proved to be incredibly influential in the legal world during such a segregated time in society. Marshall, the thirty-three-year-old lawyer, fights to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown, This is Us, 2017), an African-American chauffeur who is accused of raping his employer’s wife, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson, Deepwater Horizon, 2016). Given Strubing’s high social standing in a conservative Connecticut community, the case quickly grows into a tabloid sensation and eventually increases tensions towards the end of the Jim Crow era.
The unfamiliarity of Marshall’s story puts director Hudlin at an advantage as he can keep most viewers in suspense among the twists and turns of the trial itself, without having to do anything extraordinary. Hudlin’s directing style is less stylish and more straightforward, which could bore some audiences, but entertain those thirsty for a heavy historical drama. While Marshall is well-told, I kept waiting for the film to build up and eventually match its powerful historical significance, but it falls just short.
Boseman’s performance is prominent, but Hudson doesn’t receive enough face time to contribute. Boseman’s eventual partner, Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad, Beauty and the Beast, 2017), a local insurance lawyer, is a great foil as he is very mild-mannered and by-the-book. Friedman hates ruffling any feathers, especially when his professional reputation is at stake. In fact, Gad’s character is so uptight that his banter with Boseman provides necessary comic relief to this legal drama. Their chemistry keeps the film from going too far down a heavy melodramatic lane. While the film centers on Thurgood Marshall, Gad gets just as much screen time, as he struggles with his identity as both a white and Jewish man. Perhaps both of their insecurities and contrasting backgrounds in such a conservative city are what help bring them together forming more than a partnership, but a supportive friendship.
It’s worth noting some of the harsher realities of this film, as it doesn’t paint everyone in an angelic light. Throughout the film, audiences will witness racial discrimination and harassment. In fact, one scene is specifically shot around ‘white only’ water fountains to remind audiences what minorities were up against. In that same vein, Marshall isn’t depicted as a perfect super hero, or role model through the film’s entirety, either. He’s humanized with character flaws, like in a bar scene where he alluded to the fact that he may be unfaithful to his wife.
Despite the solid performances by Bosman and Gad and the impactful storyline itself, Marshall might not win the unanimous vote by a jury. Consider renting it.
Bottom Line: While Marshall is well-told, I kept waiting for the film to build up and eventually match its powerful historical significance, but it falls just short. Regardless, Chadwick Boseman’s multi-layered portrayal of Marshall makes the film watch-worthy enough.
Credits: Directed by Reginald Hudlin; Written by Jacob Koskoff & Michael Koskoff
Cast: Chadwick Boseman (Thurgood Marshall), Josh Gad (Sam Freidman), Dan Stevens (Loren Willis), Sterling K. Brown (Joseph Spell), Kate Hudson (Eleanor Strubing), James Cromwell (Judge Foster)
Studio: Open Road Films
Running Time: 118 minutes
Jessica DeLong © October 13, 2017