[The year after he first played Marvel Comics superhero, Black Panther, the late Chadwick Boseman played real-life hero, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, early in his career when he was a defense attorney defending oppressed African-Americans. There is something about playing both Thurgood Marshall and the Black Panther that makes an actor special. That is why some of us both mourn Boseman's passing and celebrate his work.]
TRASH IN MY EYE No. 15 of 2021 (No. 1753) by Leroy Douresseaux
Running time: 118 minutes (1 hours, 58 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for mature thematic content, sexuality, violence and some strong language
DIRECTOR: Reginald Hudlin
WRITERS: Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff
PRODUCERS: Reginald Hudlin, Jonathan Sanger, and Paula Wagner
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Newton Thomas Sigel (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Tom McArdle
COMPOSER: Marcus Miller
Academy Award nominee
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, James Cromwell, Sterling K. Brown, Keesha Sharp, John Magaro, Roger Guenveur Smith, Ahna O'Reilly, Jeremy Bobb, Derrick Baskin, Jeffrey DeMunn, Andra Day, Sophia Bush, Jussie Smollett, and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas
Marshall is a 2017 biographical film, period drama, and legal thriller directed by Reginald Hudlin. The film's lead character is Thurgood Marshall (1908 to 1993), the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. Marshall the film focuses on one of the first cases of his career, the State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell, which concerns an African-American chauffeur accused of raping a white woman in 1940.
Marshall opens in 1941. Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) is an attorney for the “NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,” which he founded. Marshall travels the country defending people who are accused of crimes solely because of their race. Upon his return to his New York office, Marshall finds more work waiting for him. Walter Francis White (Roger Guenveur Smith), Executive Secretary of the NAACP, sends Marshall to Bridgeport, Connecticut. There, he will defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a chauffeur accused of rape by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), in a case that has gripped the newspapers.
In Bridgeport, insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), is assigned by his brother, Irwin Friedman (John Magaro), to get Marshall admitted to the local bar, against Sam's will. At the hearing for Spell, Judge Carl Foster (James Cromwell), a friend of the father of prosecutor Lorin Willis (Dan Stevens), agrees to admit Marshall, but forbids Marshall from speaking during the trial, forcing Friedman to be Spell's lead counsel. Now, Marshall must guide Friedman through the trial via notes, but is this case a lost cause when Thurgood and Sam discover that it is rife with lies – on both sides.
Marshall is technically a biographical film, focusing on a specific period in the life and career of future Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall. Early in the film, however, it is obvious that director Reginald Hudlin has his mind on making Marshall a film that resembles a 1940s film noir with elements of a legal drama and a crime thriller. The audience can hear that in Marcus Miller's lovely film score and in the way Hudlin stages the action, uses space, and places the actors.
In one of the film's early moments, when Marshall has his back to the camera and is ironing a shirt, I immediately thought of my favorite actor, Humphrey Bogart, and one of his most famous roles, that of Sam Space in director John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941). From that point, there is hardly a setting in which Marshall's life does not seem to be in danger. Hudlin races his audience through a movie that seems to be shorter than its almost two hours of run time. Is Marshall a courtroom drama? Yes, and it is also a courtroom thriller with a mystery at its center.
I do wish the father-son screenwriting team of Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff had given the script more depth, as the narrative is mostly style and genre. There is also a lack of depth in the characterization, and the characters are a bit shallow. As hard as actor Sterling K. Brown tries, he can't seem to really draw anything from the well of defendant Joseph Spell's soul. Spell comes across as more of a stand-in than an actual portrait of a man whose life is on the line.
The very talented Josh Gad is able to give a lot of color to Sam Friedman, playing as a subtly wily man who is able to navigate his way between conflicting sides. Kate Hudson, mostly known for romantic comedies, shows some serious dramatic chops as the trapped suburban wife and alleged victim, Eleanor Strubing. As usual, Roger Guenveur Smith is spry, this time as the real-life Walter Francis Wright.
Of course, in the wake of his 2020 death to complications of colon cancer, Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall will be the center of attention in the film, Marshall, going forward. Despite a lack of characterization in the film's script, Boseman turns Marshall into a relentless paladin, traveling the countryside fighting the forces of white bigotry and racism. His field of battle is the courtroom, and black men falsely accused because they are black are the people he defends. Boseman makes me believe that he is a stubborn attorney and hero in an old-fashioned courtroom drama. He also makes me believe that he is a superhero, almost a year before he became the beloved Black Panther of Disney/Marvel Studios' Oscar-winning film, Black Panther.
Marshall convinces me that Thurgood Marshall was both a heroic lawyer and a superhero. The film also convinces me that Boseman was the best at bringing the most famous African-American men to life on the big screen. Plus, Marshall is a really good movie.
8 of 10
Monday, February 15, 2021
2018 Academy Awards, USA: 1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Common and Diane Warren for song “Stand Up for Something”)
2018 Black Reel Awards: 7 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture” (Jonathan Sanger, Paula Wagner, and Reginald Hudlin), “Outstanding Actor, Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), “Outstanding Director, Motion Picture” (Reginald Hudlin), “Outstanding Ensemble” (Victoria Thomas-Casting Director), “Outstanding Score” (Marcus Miller-Composer), “Outstanding Original Song” (Andra Day-Performer, Common-Performer, Writer, and Diane Warren-Writer for the song “Stand Up for Something”), and “Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male” (Sterling K. Brown)
2018 Image Awards (NAACP): 5 nominations: “Outstanding Motion Picture,” “Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture” (Chadwick Boseman), “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture” (Sterling K. Brown), “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture” (Keesha Sharp), “and “Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture” (Reginald Hudlin)
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