Movie Review: “Marshall” Is A Fair And Fantastic Look At Racism In The 1940s

“Never has a conceited man been as charming as Chadwick Boseman playing Thurgood Marshall. He refuses to bow down to the enemy. He also refuses to believe if one apple is bad the whole tree is bad.”


 

“Marshall” tells the story about a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.

Chadwick Boseman (known for his role as Black Panther) becomes a legend in the new courtroom movie “Marshall.” His role as Thurgood Marshall tells the true story of a black man who not only becomes a civil rights attorney but also the first African American to be a Supreme Court Justice. Chadwick breathes life into this flawed script and brings about a beauty, and a humor to the simplistic plot. Many movies have focused on the injustice of a black man accused of harming a white person, a topic still making headlines today, the one that comes most readily to mind is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Other elements make this film stand out, such as Jewish Lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) during World War II, and white woman Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) with a heartbreaking story rendering neither party innocent or completely guilty.

Thurgood Marshall is a civil rights attorney for the NAACP in New York. He gets called to a case in Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), who has been accused of raping his employer, Eleanor Strubing. First Marshall has to find a white lawyer to partner up with him as the judge will not allow him to speak in the trial. Enter Sam Friedman as co-counsel. Sam has no experience in criminal law and starts out as Marshall’s puppet to help clear Spell. The character of Marshall is shown from the moment he is on stage. A conceited man with far more confidence than was afforded those of African descent in the 1940s. Upon meeting Spell, Marshall insists he will not serve a guilty black man. When Spell proclaims his innocence, Thurgood takes the case and sets himself on a mission not to just prove Spell innocent but to highlight the injustice of American courts when the person on trial is a man of color.

Friedman fights against serving as Marshall’s co-counsel. As a Jewish insurance attorney during World War II, with plenty on his plate, Friedman has no desire to be in the limelight. Friedman quickly learns the case is not about Joseph Spell or the potential victim, but about civil rights. He steps up his game as lead counsel and learns how much he has in common with the defendant. The two are considered of lesser value by both the presiding judge and the plaintiff’s lawyer Morris, who is hellbent on hanging Joseph Spell despite flaws in his client Eleanor’s case. Mrs. Strubing claims to have been forcibly raped by Spell and was then thrown over a bridge to die. Spell claims rape was not involved, both parties were willing participants. He also states Eleanor, upon realizing the ramifications of her actions, tried to kill herself by jumping off the bridge.

With a doctor willing to lie on the stand and a few lies from the defendant, Attorney Morris believes he has this case won before the jury is chosen. When the trial highlighted holes in Eleanor’s story, even Morris has to accept the case is about a woman trying to avoid harm from an abusive husband. He tries to offer several deals, which Marshall counsels his client against. He does not defend guilty men and he does not lose. The question remains, will the jury find for the white woman with a heartbreaking story or a black man already guilty because of the color of his skin?

I was not impressed with the role written for Sterling Brown. I know this man to be an intelligent person from other roles (“This is Us,” “Army Wives”) and yet in this role, he portrays a blank-eyed man who is simply a figurehead for a bigger agenda. Brown owned his character though, putting his full talent into the limited role. Kate Hudson was unremarkable in this film, I am sad to say. She is a talented actress but failed to fully sell her character. Her beauty and ability to cry on demand were all that was really needed for this part as the real stars were neither the defendant or the plaintiff but the lawyers fighting for their cause. I cannot say enough about the on-screen abilities of both Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman. Their chemistry was what held this uncomplicated plot together.

Never has a conceited man been as charming as Chadwick Boseman playing Thurgood Marshall. He refuses to bow down to the enemy. He also refuses to believe if one apple is bad the whole tree is bad. He respected those who served justice. The beauty of this entire film is the ability to show racism as truth without accusing everyone as guilty of the crime. Thurgood is portrayed as the role model he was for his inability to be backed into a corner by a system meant to destroy him. Despite the flaws in the plot and semi-lacking characters, this movie is still worth watching just to see Boseman and Gad onscreen together with their heartfelt humor and quick wit.

In theaters Friday, October 13th


 

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