“Marshall” is the tale of two stories – it’s first an origin story about a historical legend who chose to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. The film focuses on a specific time in the life of Thurgood Marshall, perhaps as a character study to further understand the man.
But secondly, it’s about the friendship of two men who came from opposite sides of the tracks and are thrown together by circumstance, forged together through trials and bonded together by accomplishment.
“Marshall” is a film that adroitly merges both narratives as the backdrop about the early life of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, while centering on one of his early cases about a well-to-do white female socialite who accuses her black chauffeur of rape. As a lawyer in the NAACP, Marshall became the to go to lawyer for high-profile cases, aiding in growing the membership and impact of this organization.
But if you are searching for a history lesson about Thurgood Marshall, or an exposé’ on racism and/or the prejudices of those times, this is not that movie. While the movie does highlight some historical evidence of the times, and the particulars of his life, that is not the focus of “Marshall.”
And controversy aside, whether a dark-skinned actor can portray the light-skinned civil rights lawyer whose skin color was an important barrier for him has merit, But the film tells a different narrative, and changes the angle from ‘color’ to ‘cocky’.
“Marshall” is a slow-paced, intelligent, and emotionally impactful film with traces of levity that plays into the strengths of our main actors, Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad. Masquerading as a buddy movie, “Marshall” often resembles films like those starring Richard Pryor & Gene Wilder. But does this film work?
Yes, it does mainly because of the talents of its director, Reginald Hudlin. While other black directors have come into prominence in recent years, often forgotten are the exploits of the director of films like ‘Boomerang” and “House Party.”
If you enjoyed “Boomerang,” then you’re probably going to be pleased with “Marshall” – as Hudlin weaves a good-hearted narrative and establishes a world so sweet it practically renders this historical story fictional.
While that doesn’t offer “justice” to the legacy of Thurgood Marshall, that doesn’t hinder “Marshall” from being a good film. The film provides some historical antidotes as bookends and, other than a tantalizing scene in the midst of the film that brought a genuine smile to my heart, strays away mostly from the facts of the times.
Chadwick Boseman continues his stellar run of wonderful performances. His ability to draw the audience in with his delivery is what makes him special, allowing us to get lost in the narrative. He portrays Thurgood Marshall as a confident (cocky) and assured (arrogant) black man who is extremely competent.
Josh Gad (Samuel Friedman) usually plays funny characters, but in this he is easy-going, powerfully innocent and brings a balance to the brashness of Boseman’s character. The role of the wealthy white woman, I believe, needed a known actress to play the female antagonist, and Kate Hudson (Eleanor Strubing) instantly makes the viewer believe she is a woman who could be two different sides of the same coin.
In the end, “Marshall” is a feel-good movie with just enough traces of history to paint a portrait of the man who would later change lives in America. If this film inspires someone to delve deeper into the life of Thurgood Marshall, and his impact beyond his landmark cases, then this film has done its job.
And lastly to Chadwick Boseman, can you save some biopic roles for other black actors in Hollywood? We’ll grant you at least one more, Black Panther, because everyone knows that Wakanda and the Black Panther are real!
Darryl King is a video director, film writer and avid Marvel/DC comic book/movie lover. Checkout his reviews of The Dark Tower, Spider-man: Homecoming, and Baby Driver right here on MMT.