THE STORY – Young Thurgood Marshall faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP. Marshall travels to conservative Connecticut when wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing accuses black chauffeur Joseph Spell of sexual assault and attempted murder. He soon teams up with Sam Friedman, a local Jewish lawyer who’s never handled a criminal case. Together, the two men build a defense while contending with racist and anti-Semitic views from those who deem Spell to be guilty.
THE CAST – Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown & James Cromwell
THE TEAM – Reginald Hudlin (Director), Michael Koskoff & Jacob Koskoff (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
By Matt N.
Thurgood Marshall is an indelible figure within the practice of the law and civil rights for African Americans. A man and a symbol, he was one of the leaders of the NAACP who achieved great success during a time when it was extraordinarily difficult for any person of color to do so. With so much prejudice and hate, Marshall was a man who did extraordinary things for those who needed his help the most. His story deserves to be told on the big screen. While I commend the film “Marshall” for telling a specific story in the life of Thurgood Marshall and not a “greatest hits” biopic, it, unfortunately, is brought down by a blanket of blandness that covers the entire film. From the writing to the cinematography and yes, even the performances, “Marshall” is never able to rise up above mediocrity to give the historical figure the film he truly deserves.
Before he was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) was a young trial lawyer traveling across the country on behalf of the NAACP to provide fair trials for wrongly accused African American. Meeting with reluctant local Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) in conservative Connecticut, the two men must team together to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown). Spell is a black chauffeur for the wealthy Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) and her husband. When Eleanor accuses Spell of raping, assaulting and attempting to murder her, Marshall and Friedman step in to act as his defense, while contending with racist and anti-Semitic views from those who deem Spell to be guilty.
Underwhelming is the word I would use to describe “Marshall.” It is a film that is lacking in spark and excitement. From the low-key lounge-like music to the uninspired cinematography that makes it look like a made for TV movie, “Marshall” does not have a single element which allows it to stand out. Even Chadwick Boseman, who displays a ton of charisma, likability and commanding power as the human rights lawyer, is not enough to elevate “Marshall” and make it something special. Instead, the whole film is a paint by the numbers story that plays every decision it makes rather safe. Save for a few f-bombs and a story dealing with a criminal case involving rape, one would be forgiven for thinking this was a Disney movie in terms of its tone, look and feel. Josh Gad, who also tries, is a co-lead instead of a bumbling sidekick to Thorogood Marshall. His character, like so many others, is a simple one that doesn’t get enough to do outside of the routine story beats one expects from this kind of genre. He gets a few monologues in the courtroom scenes (Marshall is forbidden from speaking during the trial) and is given some depth in regards to his family life back at home. However, the writing and directing don’t do him enough favors allowing his character, performance and thus the entire story stand out. Sterling K. Brown (Who is all the rage right now on television) is not given enough screen time to show us what he is truly capable of as an actor. When he finally does have his moments on screen, it’s though as if he’s just reading the lines in the weakest manner possible. James Cromwell plays the racist judge (At least we assume he is) during the trial and all of his lines are spoken with commanding delivery but are undone by the hammy direction in how they are timed to achieve maximum sympathy from the audience when he rules against or silences our heroes. Believe it or not, the only performer in “Marshall” who continues to surprise me is Dan Stevens as the District Attorney for the state of Connecticut. Maybe its the range he has shown in his projects as of late (“Beauty And The Beast” and television’s “Legion”) or maybe it’s the fact that outside of Boseman, he is the only performer who is bringing life to his performance every time he is on screen. Whatever it is, he is a standout, despite the fact that he will not receive any awards attention for his work.
And therein lies the problem. Is “Marshall” trying to be an award-bait film? Is it merely content with being a crowd pleaser that doesn’t rock the boat, take any risks and is content with telling the simplest story about a man who was more complex and fascinating than the film would have you believe. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to the end credits and tell me that with all of the achievements within this man’s life and all he had to go through, that this was the best possible story they could come up with to encapsulate what a truly mesmerizing and important figure Thorogood Marshall was in American history.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – All of the performers do their best. A crowd pleasing film that will surely appeal to the masses.
THE BAD – Feels like a made for TV movie. Bland in nearly every aspect.