As a courtroom drama and inherent story of the underdog, it’s rather difficult not to feel invested and subsequently compelled by Reginald Hudlin’s Marshall – which tells the story of the very first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he undertakes one of the most monumental cases of his remarkable career.
Chadwick Boseman plays Thurgood Marshall, who works on behalf of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) – voluntarily representing defendants who have been accused of a crime based purely on the colour of their skin. Marshall picks up the high-profile case concerning Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), in court having been charged with the rape of an affluent white woman Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), which he fiercely denies. So Marshall teams up with the somewhat reluctant Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), due to the fact he’s not allowed to speak in court. But that doesn’t stop him working tirelessly behind the scenes – as they know that a victory for their client could mean so much in their fight for equality.
Hudlin somehow manages to maintain a light edge to proceedings, in a way that doesn’t compromise the severity of the situation. This is representative of a film that is overtly cinematic, but given the fact so much takes in the courtroom – an area ingrained into the fabric of classic, cinematic storytelling, it gives the director a licence of sorts, and the approach becomes endearing, even if not entirely authentic. That’s not to say the film isn’t peppered with profundity however, with a vital sense of ambiguity injected into this film, for some aspects of Spell’s defence just doesn’t quite add up, and at times, Marshall isn’t entirely sure that he believes the stories of his client, which could be immensely destructive to his cause, which just keeps the viewer on edge.
There’s an air of authority to Boseman that makes him a believable, powerful presence, which Marshall was – and you buy into the inspiring monologues, and his distinct intellectualism, even if at times you want to get behind the facade somewhat and understand the man – much like we did with Martin Luther King in Selma. We need more of the subtle sequences outside of the courtroom, that may even appear innocuous, but help to paint a picture of our subject that in this instance we’re lacking.
So just be sure not to expect a traditional biopic here, this film is as much about the case as it is about those working on it, and this approach serves the film well. Often it can be best to merely use one thing as a catalyst to understand those being portrayed, rather than trying to explore too much. It requires more skill to take a mere strand of their life and have it be emblematic of their person, and it’s here that Hudlin has excelled.
Marshall is released on October 20th.