Marshall is not the film you think it is

The most surprising thing about Reginal Hudlin’s film Marshall — which hits theaters Friday — is how emphatically it’s not a biopic. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was, based on that brooding photo of Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall on the poster. He looks solemn, respectable, challenging, earnest, just as a Supreme Court justice in the making should. And the film starts off making certain promises: We first encounter Marshall in his undershirt, dressing and preparing for his day. Boseman is both vulnerable and attractive in those lovely first moments; as we watch the man don his professional armor, there’s every reason to think we’ll see more of this — of Thurgood Marshall, civil rights hero in the making, learning to become the force that he became.

This is not that story. Marshall is a procedural, and a good but mighty strange one. The film touches on a couple of Marshall’s cases (Lyons v. Oklahoma makes an appearance) but the one it focuses on — The State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell — isn’t one people typically associate with Marshall. For good reason: His co-counsel Sam Friedman (a reluctant Jewish insurance lawyer, played by Josh Gad) argued it. The basic setup resembles the case in To Kill a Mockingbird: A wealthy white woman named Eleanor Strubing (played by Kate Hudson) accused her “Negro chauffeur-butler” of raping her several times and trying to kill her. The defendant, Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown), pleaded innocence. Cinematically speaking, this seems like a perfect opportunity to create a black Atticus Finch.

Instead, the film muzzles its main character. The judge (James Cromwell) rules that only Friedman will be allowed to question witnesses; Marshall may remain present, but he cannot speak. The result is an unusually high-stakes buddy film in which Marshall — who initially sees Friedman as a pliable puppet he can strong-arm into vicarious advocacy — comes to respect his co-counsel. And Friedman, a Jewish skeptic who meets his share of racialized violence (thanks partly to Marshall’s incendiary remarks to the press), comes to appreciate Marshall’s legal mind and ethical imperative.

The trouble — and I hesitate to call it trouble, because this is a very competent film — is that it shouldn’t have been called Marshall, because Marshall himself has no arc. The vulnerable man we see in those opening shots evanesces. Boseman is a twinkly, irreverent delight in this film — he certainly

Source:: The Week – Entertainment

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