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Marshall tells the true-life tale of a brash, young, trial lawyer who hops a train to Connecticut to represent a black man (Brown) accused of rape. Sent with the endorsement of the NAACP and aided by a local co-counsel, Thurgood Marshall (Boseman) musters the courage to represent his client while also dealing with the looming issues of racial prejudice and trials of his personal life.
That name Thurgood Marshall - should sound familiar. The man successfully argued over fifty cases in front of the Supreme Court including Brown V. Board of Education. Which if you turn your textbook to page 237 you'll see it was the court case that declared state-sponsored segregation unconstitutional. Marshall would eventually become a Justice of the highest court in the land, the first African American to do so; serving with distinction until 1991.
This movie however isn't about all that, which may prove disappointing for some. Though those who know and laud the towering legal mind at the fore of this courtroom drama can take heart in knowing Chadwick Boseman portrays him with poise and uncompromising power. From the moment we're introduced to him bellowing his closing arguments in a hot Alabama courtroom all the way to his final phone call with ally Sam Friedman (Gad), Marshall proves a man of incredible strength and dignity.
I almost wish the plan to do a Thurgood Marshall biopic was better joined to Boseman himself. For then director Reginald Hudlin and writers Jacob and Michael Koskoff could have designed a film worthy of his performance. Marshall's approach to avoiding all the tired biopic clichés we've all come to expect is to shunt headfirst into the tired courtroom drama clichés we cease to remember. You got your niggling WASP-ish district attorney (Stevens), your unsympathetic judge (Cromwell), your boyish, naïve legal counsel (Magaro) who got the affable Sam attached to case to begin with etcetera, etcetera.
And can we take a moment to explore the eek factor of a biography of this nature being tied to a rape case; a rape case where, if the defendant's statement is to be believed both he and the accuser (Hudson) are victims of circumstance. I get that most of what transpires on screen more-or-less happened. But considering Marshall was involved in so many other, less murky civil rights cases wouldn't it have been better to explore one that didn't boil down to, "she's a liar!" Maybe it's just bad timing but given the recent Weinstein controversy, I for one need more than a man's word and two courtroom Rashomons to think Marshall and Friedman are fighting for the right side.
So instead of taking the long-view of a life searching for truth, justice and equality, the film takes one quick, early and none-too-pretty snapshot of the American icon it's trying to honor. This kind of approach has bared fruit before The Attorney (2013) comes to mind as one recent example to aspire to. Yet by making this particular movie this way, the filmmakers minimized the hero in a way that, if Boseman wasn't on board, would have boiled him down to an archetype.
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