Recently just watched Marshall: a biographical legal drama about the legendary Thurgood Marshall. Marshall is directed by Reginald Hudlin and written by Michael and Jacob Koskoff starring Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad. For those that do not know about Mr. Marshall; here are some of his accomplishments: He was the first African-American Supreme Court Justice to successfully argued the Brown vs. The Board of Education in Topeka Case which declared it was unconstitutional for states to have segregated schools and another case he successfully argued was Browder vs. Gayle which denounced bus segregation as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Those are only some of the many things that he did that helped paved the way for African-Americans to have more long overdue rights in the United States.
Marshall focuses on one of his lesser known case “The State of Connecticut vs. Joseph Spell”. This was a case where a black chauffeur was accused of allegedly raping a white female socialite and attempting to murder her. It’s sadly a very familiar story in the legal history of America (ex. The Scottsboro Boys). Marshall attempts to take this case and put it on the big screen.
The writing of the character Marshall itself is a bit fanciful. He comes off as untouchable and reckless as if he isn’t living in Jim Crow America.
As a movie Marshall is fairly well made. It has a coherent easy to follow storyline and the acting is up to par. However the title itself is a bit misleading. The title would have you think that the movie is about Thurgood Marshall when it is more about his relationship with Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) a Jewish insurance lawyer and the case itself. Both Boseman and Gad put on stellar performances as two lawyers from separate but similar worlds come together to solve a case where a man’s life hangs in the balance.
Marshall is not without fault however. Its female characters are pushed to the side and have no real personality or purpose except to act as convenient pieces that move the story along. The writing of the character Marshall itself is a bit fanciful. He comes off as untouchable and reckless as if he isn’t living in Jim Crow America. The film has him brazenly walking into White Only country clubs, back-talking a judge who may or may not be a Grand Dragon and other acts that’ll have you worrying about the safety of this man. The problem is…there is never any reason to worry not because historically we know that Thurgood lives to the ripe age of 85 but because nothing happens to him in the movie. There is only one scene where he is in trouble but even then Marshall is a terrific fighter who gives his tormentors a two piece and a biscuit although he does have help from a black bartender with a shotgun (Okay every person of color in this movie is fearless).
Now I appreciate what Marshall and movies like Hidden Figures are trying to do. They’re taking that tired old Hollywood formula of African-Americans in America during the 1950s being portrayed as fearful and attempts to portray them in the opposite light. However Marshall easily oversteps the fearless territory and enters into the reckless territory. It almost makes you feel as if the case didn’t happen or that African Americans exaggerated how badly they had it. If Thurgood could basically throw a metaphorical middle finger to Jim Crow America with barely any consequences then what were those uppity blacks complaining about?
However overall Marshall is a good and much-needed movie. There are too many people who aren’t aware of America’s racism and the people who fought and those that continue to fight for fair treatment in the U.S. Hudlin manages to take a somber case and turn it into a movie that is fairly entertain and humorous. Although at times that humor takes away from the film.
Verdict: Solid story with humorous elements but at times seems fanatical in its portrayal of Thurgood Marshall. Also has trouble fleshing out its female characters.