Marshall review: Reginald Hudlin directs Chadwick Boseman in this engaging courtroom drama, focussed very much on a single case handled by the man who would go on to be the first African-American Supreme Court Justice.
Marshall review by Paul Heath.
Chadwick Boseman leads the cast of the impressive new feature from seasoned television and film director and producer Reginald Hudlin. Boseman plays the title role of Thurgood Marshall, an African-American lawyer working for the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), an organisation set up in 1909 to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons, and to eliminate race-based discrimination.
We meet Marshall in the 1940s when he is dispatched from New York to Bridgeport, Connecticut to defend a local black man named Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), who has been charged with the rape and attempted murder of a white socialite named Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), who also happens to be his boss. Eleanor is married to a local tycoon with Spell acting as chauffeur to the family. He is arrested following statements made by the parties involved, not ably Eleanor, who says that he had intercourse with her without consent, before throwing her off a bridge on the outskirts of town – for which she luckily escaped.
With local law enforcement and the white majority community sure of Spell’s actions, his fate already seemingly sealed, Marshall is assigned the case after the defendant’s protest of innocence. However, Marshall is forced to use the assistance of local counsel, in this instance, Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), whose experience in court so far has been limited to insurance cases. When James Cromwell’s judge declares that Marshall shall not be able to speak in court, Friedman becomes a kind on ventriloquist’s dummy – acting and speaking on behalf of the New York hot-shot attorney and of course, the man accused of this hideous crime.
Marshall first comes across as a very generic court-room drama, but when it finally begins to flow audiences are eventually treated to a very engrossing, superbly acted and crafted piece of cinema. Boseman and Gad provide two very engaging performances, which are also very comedic in places, certainly from the direction of the latter’s fish out of water character, despite the young attorney trading on his own patch. It’s an interesting dynamic, expertly pulled off by the pair as the two embark on two very difference personal journeys, both having to endure acts of prejudice as they attempt to clear their clients name.
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Despite its themes, Marshall has a very light feel to it, and while sometimes the action plays out as a broad legal drama, there’s always a flair of style and elegance injected by the creative team. Taking its story from the reams of information from the public record, and obviously some artistic license, the screenwriters in Michael and Jacob Koskoff have written a superb screenplay, one which keeps the audience member involved until the very end.
The story is very much about this one specific case, and while sometimes filling us in with information on each character’s past, this is very much about this one event, using post-explanation via that dreaded end of movie info text to tell us what happened as a result. The film’s simplicity and fine angle are both a positive and a negative as, while it’s great to see such a streamlined story play out before you, one can’t help but feel unfulfilled once the credits roll. We want to see more, and this could have very much been one of many movie instalments, or even a limited series, into the fascinating life of Marshall, the man who would go on to bigger things past the confines of this film.
That said, as it stands, Marshall plays well as a stand-alone – it is very enjoyable and a well-spent, very educational evening at the movies.
Marshall review by Paul Heath, October 2017.
Marshall is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th October, 2017.