MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Reginald Hudlin. Starring Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad.
Marshall is a very entertaining biography/legal thriller with an unfortunate title that evokes either a small department store or a football team instead of the early years of Thurgood Marshall (Boseman), the NAACP attorney who would later become a Supreme Court Justice who would help decide such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education, which put an end to segregation in public schools.
The film is set in the 1940’s when America was at war but there were other battles to be fought on the home front, as the NAACP sent their sole black attorney across the country to defend the rights of Black Americans. Marshall tells the story of a trial in Connecticut in which Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur, is accused of the rape of his employer Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). The sitting judge (James Cromwell) will only allow attorneys licensed to practice law in Connecticut to argue in his courtroom, so Marshall recruits the help of Sam Friedman (Gad), an insurance lawyer, to act as his official representative. Friedman is initially hesitant to assist but agrees to help, only to discover that this case will be taking up much more time than he could ever imagine.
The interplay between Marshall and Friedman is lively and often humorous, and the film takes the time to introduce us to the families who support them. Racial and ethnic diversity are presented in brief scenes of confrontation between the races, but also in settings that are particular to each character, whether a Harlem nightclub or a synagogue. During the trial, the film uses a variety of flashback scenes to represent the differing testimonies.
I rather enjoy biopics that set aside the traditional sweep of an entire life and choose instead to show a snapshot of a key event that helped to make the man. This film evokes memories of other courtroom dramas: 1962’s To Kill a Mockingbird, 2016’s Loving, and 1939’s Young Mr. Lincoln.
I was also reminded about my favorite part in Braveheart, toward its conclusion, when we discover the profound effect that Sir William Wallace had on Robert the Bruce, who carried on Wallace’s fight for Scotland’s independence for many years to come. At the conclusion of Marshall, a postscript mentions that Sam Friedman would go on to defend other civil rights cases during his lifetime.
The filmmakers include a first-time father/son team (who also happen to be lawyers) and a director of comedies that include Boomerang, House Party, and The Great White Hype. Combine a desire for justice with the ability to entertain and you have the potentially crowd-pleasing film called Marshall.
It just needed a better title. How about – Thurgood Marshall?
Four halos: An entertaining courtroom drama that also celebrates the virtues of persistence and justice.
Three pitchforks: Sexual content, including rape, presented discretely; racial epithets; violence; Holocaust references; some strong PG-13 language.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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