Starring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad, Marshall is based on the true story of one of the lower profile cases argued by Thurgood Marshall which primed him for his eventual career as a Supreme Court Justice. Long before successfully arguing Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) before the Supreme Court, Marshall argued The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell (1941). Marshall worked for the NAACP, which at the time had so many civil rights cases to contend with they had to be very selective about which cases the organization pursued. “Winability” of a case was a key factor in taking a case because when the NAACP took on a case it built buzz around that case and the historical and legal importance of the outcome. One court case at a time, the law and times were changing and black people were litigating and being represented in ways they hadn’t before.
In the case of Spell, the suspect had already confessed to the crime and the court of public opinion had already tried and convicted the man in the press before Thurgood even showed up. So, how does one win a case in segregated 1941 Connecticut, within a judicial system so racist Marshall cannot argue the case himself and has to use a reluctant white/Jewish figurehead to do his talking? That’s right. According to this movie, Marshall was forbidden from speaking at all in court by the judge, lest he would be dismissed, strictly because he was black. (Keep in mind, this is the “Hollywood” account of events, but after conducting further research on the matter, this account is probably not very far off from what actually happened.)
Thurgood Marshall, of course, had to overcome much adversity during his life and career to become “the first black” everything that he became. But silencing an attorney in court is just next-level hoops to jump through, and he managed to do what needed to be done despite every disadvantage. This is what really holds your interest during the movie. Another aspect of this movie that makes it interesting is its similarity to Harper Lee’sTo Kill A Mockingbird, which is of course one of my very favorite court-based dramas. Marshall really is like the real-life Macomb, Alabama v. Tom Robinson. Set in Connecticut, a bit less dramatic perhaps, but definitely a very similar case, defendant, plaintiff, attorneys, judge, and social climate.
The story is well written as Marshall manages to get the point across of how focused and determined Thurgood Marshall was without making him seem anything other than human. The film takes you through Marshall’s sometimes rocky relationship with this Jewish lawyer who isn’t always on board with the program and definitely gets more trouble than he signed up for. There is a metamorphosis in this relationship where the two men gain true mutual respect for one another that is very well executed and satisfying to watch. I also appreciate that the story is of a lesser-known case, and not so “on-the-nose” as Brown v. the Board of Ed. (When reviewing Marshall’s bio, you won’t come across mention of the Spell case without digging deeper.) This leaves room for actors to not have to look like the characters they are portraying (not that I have any idea what anyone involved with Brown looked like, with the exception of Thurgood, but there were Supreme Court Justices whose likeness would have to be considered as well). I must say, although Chadwick Boseman looks absolutely nothing like Thurgood Marshall he really does an outstanding job of making you forget that fact and believe he is a young, brilliant, somewhat cocky, Thurgood Marshall. And further regarding Mr. Boseman, for someone who has already brilliantly played Jackie Robinson (42) and James Brown (Get on Up) (both of which I recommend you watch if you’ve not seen them. The man is talented), his biopic roles are diverse enough so that you don’t get tired of seeing him do them.
The acting is strong, but I do believe that Josh Gad was miscast as attorney Sam Friedman. It’s difficult to put an actor who is known for comedic roles into a more serious film and make it work. On the one hand, he lightened the movie up to a certain degree; on the other hand, it would have been interesting to see the movie get darker, be heavier and more serious – and what that movie would have looked like. At times it almost felt like a bro movie which isn’t a bad thing, but it muddled the message somewhat. (Similarly to Loving where Nick Kroll was cast as this civil rights attorney and I was just waiting for him to make me laugh (mentioned here in my review of Loving)). Sterling K. Brown plays Spell, and I just want to see SKB everywhere all day long, every day. Sterling K. Brown can do whatever he wants in my book. I’ve never seen Kate Hudson do a better job that I can recall.
Marshall earned 8.0 out of 10 bloops. It’s a great movie that shouldn’t be missed. I would absolutely take my children to see it, particularly those of us raising young boys into young men. And it doesn’t matter what ethnicity those young men may be. Overcoming real life adversity is always a powerful lesson for youth to learn about, witness and discuss. There are a couple of bad words and some violence, so take care. It is rated PG-13 for a reason, after all. It is inspirational and educational. I learned a couple of things about Justice Marshall I didn’t know before and it made me want to research him further than I already have. It is well written, well acted, entertaining and will hold your interest all the way through. It’s still playing in NYC theaters if you want to catch it before it leaves. If that’s not possible, when it streams make sure to see it.
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1 = worst ever, avoid at all cost
2 = very bad, forget about it!
3 = poor movie, not recommended
4 = not good, even for free – NO!
5 = so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6 = not bad, could have been better
7 = good movie, worth seeing
8 = great movie, don’t miss it!
9 = excellent movie, a must see!
10 = a masterpiece, go see it now!
What I’m seeing next…
Unfortunately, what I’m seeing next hasn’t changed from last week. Thanksgiving and all the fanfare that goes with it and a death in the family sidetracked me, once again. Lots to catch up on and I will get there. Please bear with me. Along with these three:
I will be seeing:
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Victoria and Abdul
Kingsman: The Golden Circle
The Big Sick
All Eyez on Me
It Comes at Night
The Wedding Plan
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
Kong: Skull Island
The Girl with All the Gifts
A Cure for Wellness
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Manchester by the Sea
I Am Not Your Negro