Essentially a buddy cop movie where a young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman, though for some reason I first typed Bojack Horseman), while working for the NAACP, partners with a local Jewish attorney, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), to defend a wrongfully-accused black man (Sterling K. Brown) for the rape of a married white woman (Kate Hudson). Marshall is silenced by the court, only non-litigator Friedman is allowed to speak, and they must work together, reluctantly at first, in order to figure out the truth. It’s an interesting concept to hang on the story of one of the greatest orators of the modern age – follow the court case where he isn’t allowed to speak, but it also made me a little uncomfortable: taking a black man’s story and putting a white face on it to make it more palatable.
The movie sidesteps that a bit by never wavering in its focus of Marshall, and the gravelly-voiced Boseman is wonderful, carrying the weight of his status, his hubris, his defiance and his rage. It does the movie well to focus only on a short area of his life, but it seems like with the wealth of history at its disposal there was a better case out there to explore this legend. It’s hard to get a definitive sense of the man. The chemistry between Gad and Boseman is nice and helps carry the movie. The court scenes are straight out of movie courts 101 and likely play out exactly as you would expect. There’s nothing surprising or enlightening in the film, even if it’s generally entertaining in a placid way. Brown is an always welcome presence, but as dynamic as Hudson can be, she’s a little too mannered and affected here, seemingly in a different movie from the others altogether.
Boseman is a star and has no trouble as the central figure. It’s a credit that he can morph so easily between cultural icons (James Brown, Jackie Robinson) and have a completely different impact as Black Panther for Marvel Studios. It’s a shame it took me so long to get my thoughts down on Marshall because I feel like I’ve forgotten so much about the movie, something that says as much about myself as it does on the film. I saw this after Blade Runner and yet that film still feels fresh in my memory.
My Grade – B-