4YE’s Big Movie Binge: Marshall

Credit: Chestnut Ridge Productions

Marshall is the story of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), a hotshot lawyer who worked for the New York NAACP in the early 40s. This is some twenty years before he would go on to become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. Before the big Civil Rights movements in the fifties and sixties, Thurgood fought for fair trails for African Americans all over the country. One such case was that of Connecticut vs Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown). Joseph is accused of rape by a socialite (Kate Hudson) and Thurgood needs to win the case so the NAACP can stay afloat. He’s joined by Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) a Jewish immigrant who is really only an insurance lawyer. He is roped into the case by his brother. Together, Sam and Thurgood go against Lorin Willis (Dan Stevens), a bigoted prosecuting attorney, and Judge Foster (James Cromwell), an equally bigoted judge. Foster prevents Thurgood from even speaking in the courtroom. It makes for tense interactions between Lorin and Sam as well as Thurgood and the judge as the case goes from tense to even tenser as the trial continues and public interest piques.

The film wasn’t marketed very well, which is what probably led to its limited theatrical release. Not only that but, this film was touted as Thurgood’s story. Sure, it’s called Marshall, but this isn’t Thurgood’s film. This is Sam’s film. This is Joseph’s film. The story portrayed to the audience gives us very little time with Thurgood and the fact that he’s silenced by Judge Foster simply reiterates that fact. Calling this film Marshall is misleading. Frankly, it was disappointing.

There’s no doubt that the story was a good one. In practice, it wasn’t quite as dynamic as it could have. Boseman, Gad, and Stevens give it their all in the courtroom scenes. This turned Marshall into a regular run of the mill law movie. It, of course, is disappointing because this is an interesting piece of history. Thurgood Marshall is an interesting subject to have a movie about. The way it was framed just made it seem like maybe it should’ve been called Friedman instead. Sam was the only character that seemed to have the most growth. Thurgood remained static. I wanted to punch Lorin the entire time. Joseph was as much in the background as Thurgood was.

Despite that, it was a decent movie. I just think that director Reginald Hudlin and writers Jacob and Michael Koskoff could have done more to highlight Thurgood and Joseph. Marshall had the opportunity to become a voice of justice and equality, even more than it was. It was squandered away by focusing on the white male cast and not on the phenomenal work Boseman and Brown did in these characters. The film could have done more, or rather, it should have done more.

Overall, Marshall was okay. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t phenomenal either. It was a solid film that featured good performances by the whole cast but it isn’t very memorable. It’s a film that you watch, ponder on, and then move away from. It is disappointing because it could have been so much more. It deserved to be much more than it was.

Shelby Arnold
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