Marshall is not the movie that should have been made about Thurgood Marshall. The man who commanded respect anywhere he went- from his lawsuit against the University of Maryland after denying him admittance to the countless times he appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court, is frequently pushed aside in the biopic that carries his own name. Chadwick Boseman plays Marshall exceptionally well, but the movie forces him to give up the spotlight far too often.
In 1940, 30 year-old Thurgood Marshall heads to posh Greenwich, Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) a black chauffeur who has been accused of raping and attempting to murder his wealthy white socialite employer (Kate Hudson). The case is dubbed “Connecticut v. Joseph Spell,” and the presiding Judge Foster (James Cromwell) denies the right to let an out-of-state attorney defend the accused. His reluctance is clearly out of hostility towards the upstart black attorney than for procedure purposes. Marshall is forced to partner with a young Jewish insurance lawyer, Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad), who has no experience in criminal litigation. The judge does not allow Marshall to speak in court. Therefore, Friedman becomes his mouthpiece and the cards are unequivocally stacked against them.
While we have not seen Thurgood Marshall represented much in film, it does feel like we’ve seen this movie more than once before. But that isn’t really the point. I’ve eaten chicken parmesan hundreds of times before. I still enjoy it at every occasion, the same dish, so long as it’s made well. Marshall isn’t reinventing any new wheels, but by the slimmest of margins is made well enough to enjoy.
From a technical standpoint, the film does not go out of its way to impress. Many of the single interior’s looks like it was shot in a back lot. The cinematography, costume, and production design, seem serviceable at best. Direction wise, Reginald Hudlin doesn’t take the story to the level of other praised court-room dramas such as Robert Mulligan’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men.
Although Boseman is terrific, it’s evident he would have shined similarly in an adaption of another case the illustrious attorney handled- Brown v. Board of Ed. The trial that unarguably had the most impact for decades to come should have been the obvious choice.
With that being said, Thurgood Marshall’s spirit does prevail and I’m happy to see his legacy being passed on by way of the big screen. But I’d be lying if I told you one of our country’s most heroic attorney’s and fearless civil rights pioneers got his due.
Contributed By Brandon Colón