Hot Take: Nice biopic/courtroom drama combo with excellent performances from Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad and a solid cast of supporting characters. If this weren’t a true story, you could see this becoming a recurring character. Heck, even though it is a true story, based on Thurgood Marshall’s life, it probably could.
In his 84 years on this Earth, Thurgood Marshall led a life that has enough milestones to fill up a catalog of films. The footnote chosen for Marshall, the biopic/courtroom drama featuring Chadwick Boseman as the titular character, is not as much of a landmark milestone as many of Marshall’s other achievements but the tale of a then NAACP lawyer (the only NAACP lawyer) traveling the country to fight injustice toward African Americans by defending them in cases where they were innocent makes for great cinematic drama. It also puts the spotlight on a great man who helped shape Civil Rights and our legal system over the last 70 years.
The plot of the film is simple. A 32-year-old Marshall heads to Greenwich, Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) against rape and attempted murder charges from a wealthy white socialite (Kate Hudson). Because he doesn’t have a license to practice law in Connecticut, Marshall must utilize a local attorney (Josh Gad) to get admitted into the court system. During the pre-trial request, the local judge (James Cromwell) refuses to allow Marshall to try the case but will allow him to stay in the courtroom under the condition that he does not speak during the trial.
In addition to the courtroom drama, we get to see the personal side of Marshall. His wife Buster (Keesha Sharp) has struggled to have a baby and Marshall is always away from home. The head of the NAACP (Roger Guenveur Smith) reminds Marshall that he “only has 13 million Negroes that are depending on you” to keep him on the road. In addition to the courtroom battle, he must also battle bigotry and racism from the local townspeople and even the opposing attorney (Dan Stevens).
While the film has fictionalized elements, the case being tried is fairly accurate despite its tabloid nature. Oddly enough, we barely get to see Marshall on display in the courtroom and have to rely on his coaching sessions behind the scenes with Gad’s Sam Friedman to get a taste of how the man approached a case which also seems to be somewhat accurate. Boseman has become the “go to” for playing iconic black characters as he’s given excellent performances as Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up and now Marshall in Marshall.
If this were fictional, there’d likely be talk of Boseman’s Marshall developing into a recurring character. The only downfall is the film would also work as a pilot for a television series and occasionally feels more like Matlock than A Time to Kill. With all of that under consideration, the film delivers an entertaining look at Marshall’s early law career and a lesser known aspect of his life which can often (as it does here) make for a refreshing and interesting watch. It’s not even crazy to speculate this character turning into an episodic television show and, based on Marshall’s life which includes 29 Supreme Court wins and countless other trials, there’s enough material to make it so. Too bad Boseman is becoming too big for television because his swagger and confidence is perfect for the role. I guess we’ll just have to settle for the solid work in Marshall and enjoy it for what it is.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Boseman is Heating Up
With his only recent hiccup being a small role in the Gods of Egypt debacle and his next role being as the titular character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s The Black Panther, Boseman’s stock continues to rise. He delivers a highly entertaining performance as Thurgood Marshall and left this viewer wanting to see more.
In the sidekick role, Gad’s portrayal of Sam Friedman works well beside Boseman’s Marshall. The reluctant attorney warms to Marshall’s cause and his growth makes him every bit the protagonist of the film as Marshall.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Needs Some Seasoning
While the Marshall biopic definitely gives some cinematized examples of the racism and bigotry Marshall faced, it often feels as if we’re seeing the softer side of it all. It helps the film to its PG-13 rating but not much else. The film is still good but it feels like it could have been better if it pulled less punches.