Monday, September 09, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Marshall (2017)

Chadwick Boseman stars as future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in the courtroom drama MARSHALL (2017).

Boseman (BLACK PANTHER) portrays Marshall as a young attorney working on one of his earliest cases as the sole lawyer for the NAACP, where his mission is to defend wrongly accused black defendants.

It's the early 1940s, and Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur, has been charged with raping his Caucasian employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Since Marshall is from out of state, local attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) is finagled into presenting an application to the trial judge (James Cromwell) to allow Marshall to appear in court. However, the judge refuses to honor the request; he allows Marshall to sit at counsel table, but will not allow him to speak and insists that Friedman be the one to try the case since he's the one who's a member of the state bar.

Friedman, an insurance attorney, is flabbergasted to find himself saddled with a case he never meant to be involved with long term, the more so as he has just a month to bone up on criminal law before the trial begins.

As a black and a Jew, Marshall and Friedman find themselves targets of some in the local community who are none too happy with their representation of a man many assume to be guilty. The two men also find themselves contending with a cold, unfriendly judge and a snobby prosecutor (Dan Stevens of DOWNTON ABBEY), as well as some unexpected twists in the case.

This was a very solid, entertaining film. At times it's a bit too predictable, going in exactly the direction the viewer expects, but that's counterbalanced with some genuinely surprising moments. I particularly appreciated that a couple of characters, included Sam's brother (John Magaro), turn out to have more to them than initially expected.

My only real problem with the film's construction is the use of "unreliable narrator" flashbacks, which is initially confusing as the viewer doesn't realize these scenes only show what's said to have happened, but not necessarily reality.

I liked Boseman's confident (if slightly arrogant) portrayal of Marshall, as he immediately assuages any viewer anxiety that watching Marshall contend with the various oppressive issues he faces will be emotionally difficult. Boseman's Marshall is a take-no-prisoners bulldozer determined that things will go the way he wants, and that includes Friedman's involvement in the case. The only time Marshall shows vulnerability is when he and his wife (Keesha Sharp) face a crisis. (Side note: I loved his classy wardrobe.)

Gad's Sam is the most likeable character in the film, an unassuming "nerd with glasses" type who is a hard worker and has come out a winner with a successful practice and a lovely wife (Marina Squerciati) and children. There are moments he shows his inexperience or circumstances cause him to fleetingly want to quit, but he doggedly continues, getting better at his new role as he becomes more confident.

Kate Hudson (who, for any readers possibly not aware, is Goldie Hawn's daughter) is fine in the role of the troubled Eleanor Strubing, who is married to a cold man (Jeremy Lowell Bobb); watching her elegant confidence begin to crumble as Friedman chips away at her story is one of the film's highlights.

Ahna O'Reilly has a small but nicely executed role as one of the jurors. Brown is also very good as the man on trial.

By coincidence, I saw both Gad and Brown last month at the Disney D23 Expo, as they are both in the voice cast of FROZEN II (2019).

Sophia Bush plays a woman who flirts with Marshall in a bar, while Jussie Smollett, who would soon be the architect of his own legal issues, plays writer Langston Hughes.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13. Due to the nature of the crime charged in the film, there is discussion/depiction of adult subject matter which is not meant for children. Positives are that the film depicts men who are committed to doing the right thing and seeking justice despite numerous obstacles.

This film is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and via streaming.

A trailer is here.


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