Movie Review - Marshall


Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) had a long and storied career as a lawyer. His more than 25 year partnership with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), contributed to the legal dismantling of Jim Crow era segregation. Mr. Marshall argued 32 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court including, Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (Kansas) in 1954. Eventually Thurgood Marshall became the first black Supreme Court Justice in U.S. History.

This is the Thurgood we know. These were the Thurgood Marshall bullet points I crammed through my elementary school age skull for the big Black History Month test at the end of February. Growing up in Maryland (Marshall was from Baltimore), the lore of Thurgood Marshall was seemingly inescapable. Rightfully so; his resume is beyond compare.

It was a pleasant surprise to watch the film and not get a better produced version of the story I've been told since childhood. Marshall isn't the typical biopic. Instead of covering the (more or less) complete life and times of Thurgood Marshall; we catch up with Thurgood (Chadwick Boseman) in 1941 as a 30 something year old hot shot lawyer for the NAACP. He's fresh off of a loss and is called to Connecticut, coming to the legal aid of Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur for the Strubings; a wealthy Greenwich family. Mr. Spell was accused of the rape and kidnapping of his boss' wife Ellie (Kate Hudson). The salacious headlines sent fear through the Connecticut elite, costing many black workers their jobs.

Alongside Thurgood is his co-counsel, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). The capable, mild mannered insurance lawyer hasn't tried a criminal case and is woefully unprepared for the media circus surrounding the "trial of the century". Because Connecticut v. Spell isn't a well known case for Marshall, the ending isn't inherently ruined, adding a bit of mystique to the proceedings.

Another surprise, not as welcomed as the previous one was the tone of the film. In some circles, Marshall could be considered a dark comedy. It's unintentional humor wasn't what I wanted in a racially charged courtroom drama, however, the levity it provided, gave insight into the man, I've not yet seen on film. Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad work the 'Odd Couple' routine well. Gad brought his patented meekness against the charismatic Boseman; who portrays Marshall with the swagger of the hotshot lawyer he actually was.

Sight unseen Marshall, isn't the movie I expected, but like well enough to recommend. I'm glad that the film took a different approach to things, but the ironic humor wasn't particylarly welcomed.

Verdict: B

Rated: PG-13 @118 mins

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