Based on a (*not as well known*) true story.
It’s been said before here, but bio-pics can be a tough sell every now and then. We’ve already seen the disastrous results bio-pics have yielded thus far in 2017, namely the egregiously mishandled Tupac Shakur bio-pic All Eyez on Me. Therefore it wasn’t out of the question to believe a bio-pic on Civil Rights activist Thurgood Marshall, entitled Marshall, might have also been bungled as well. Would it be able to avoid all of the same issues that plagued All Eyez on Me? Or would it rise above the ashes of that atrocity and present audiences with a gripping film chronicling one of the most influential Civil Rights figures?
Marshall sees a young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) as the go-to lawyer for the NAACP, who attempt to ensure all African Americans accused of crimes are given a fair trial. Marshall is sent to Greenwich, Connecticut to serve as council for Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a man accused of raping and attempting to murder Elanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), a white socialite in the town. In order to overcome an unfair judge (James Cromwell) and a well connected, biased prosecution lawyer (Dan Stevens), Marshall must team up with the reluctant Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a small time lawyer who appears to be unprepared for the case.
If you don’t know, Thurgood Marshall was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice along with an advocate for the Civil Rights movement. It would have been a tall task for director Reginald Hudlin to cover Thurgood Marshall’s story in its entirety, and it works to the film’s benefit to cover this lesser known case to highlight Marshall’s beginnings. By only focusing on this case, Hudlin is able to grasp the audience’s attention for the entirety of the film by presenting us with a good-old fashioned courtroom drama in the same elk as 1996’s A Time to Kill. You as an audience member are also treated as a member of the jury through the proceedings, and are left squirming in your seat at every moment in the courtroom as you try to decipher the case being presented on-screen.
The highlight of the film is the captivating, swaggering performance of one Chadwick Boseman. Marshall is his latest triumph and another tremendous addition to his resume, as his portrayal as Thurgood Marshall is not only relatable, but also endearing. We feel for Marshall at every obstacle that is put in front of him, and we root for him to succeed in this against all odds case. We’ve seen Boseman do this before as historical black figures in 2013’s 42 as Jackie Robinson and as James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up, and eventually we’ll more than likely see him play every single historical black figure there is.
The supporting cast also shines in the film. While Josh Gad is essentially a more dramatic incarnation of Jack Black and Dan Fogler, Gad delivers a stellar performance as a resistant at first lawyer, and his transformation into a capable defense attorney is one of the better character arcs this year. Kate Hudson also delivers a fine performance as Mrs. Strubing, and it’s a good to see her branch out into more dramatic territory after making a career of off sub-par romantic comedies. James Cromwell and Dan Stevens also give solid performances as an unjust judge and prejudiced prosecution lawyer respectively, adding tension to an already heightened situation.
In regards to the usually superb Sterling K. Brown, he doesn’t quite find his footing until the end of the film as the accused Joseph Spell. Most of the film, Brown appears to be a bumbling, unintelligent black man most racists believe black men to be, and something about his confused demeanor didn’t sit entirely well with me. As stated earlier, James Cromwell and Dan Stevens are well-cast in their villainous roles, but they might as well be waking around with signs that read “BAD GUY”. And as with many courtroom dramas, there are no shortages of cliches and telegraphed moments. One in particular that stands out is an aforementioned character’s sudden change from the behavior he had displayed throughout 99% of the film, and the camera’s lingering on this moment is a dead giveaway as to what is about to occur.
Sure, Marshall may contain many elements we’ve seen numerous times before in other courtroom drama films. However, Marshall‘s tense moments, stellar supporting cast, and knockout performance from its lead makes it one of the best the genre has to offer. It may not get the awards attention it probably deserves because of its familiar themes, but Marshall has enough to it to not only stand on its own, but also stand out from the rest, much like Thurgood Marshall himself.
Rating: 3.5/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.
Marshall stars Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, James Cromwell, Dan Stevens, Keesha Sharp, and Sophia Bush. It is in theaters October 13th.