Chadwick Boseman may be portraying Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but not all heroes wear capes…
“Marshall” is the story of Thurgood Marshall, the eventual first African-American Supreme Court Justice, and focuses one of the first cases of his career as he defends a black man charged with raping a white woman. Boseman stars as the titular lawyer as Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown and James Cromwell all also star. Reginald Hudlin directs.
Chadwick Boseman burst onto the scene in “42” in 2013, where he played Jackie Robinson, and then again caught people’s attention with his 2014 portrayal of James Brown in “Get on Up.” With his performance as Marshall, Boseman has officially completed his trilogy of biopics, doing so with quiet work in a by-the-numbers but effective courtroom drama.
Boseman isn’t treading any new territory here, as his Marshall is a soft-spoken lawyer who is more than aware of the world he lives in (the film takes place mostly in 1941 Connecticut). Boseman has a few scenes of yelling, and one of condensed anger, but for the most part he is actually literally quiet, as Marshall was ordered not to speak in the courtroom during the trial.
Josh Gad plays Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who gets caught up working with Marshall. Like Boseman, Gad isn’t doing anything too out of his wheelhouse, playing the somewhat bumbling sidekick of the duo, and much like Nick Kroll in last year’s “Loving” it takes a few scenes to take Gad seriously as a successful lawyer but we eventually buy into it.
The rest of the cast is solid, including Sterling K. Brown as the defendant. Playing a man accused of a crime and not believed by anyone because of the color of his skin, Brown follows the lead of Boseman and Gad and does a lot of acting with his eyes and soft tone, as he has become known for after his work in “The People vs OJ Simpson” and “This is Us.”
The biggest issue with “Marshall” is that it is either made by people who aren’t incredibly experienced, or don’t trust their audience. Everything is by the numbers and Marshall himself, despite being the man who the film is named after, almost feels like a supporting character. The moments inside the courtroom are interesting and have some tension, but when we get outside those doors things feel contrived and melodramatic. For example, there is a scene where a person finds out their relative may have died overseas in the War; that instance is never brought up again and was clearly added just to have audiences feel sympathy for that character.
The score is almost out of a noir, with the soft trumpet and piano jazz playing in the background. It fits the time period, but for a legal drama at times feels out of place. And from a visual perspective, the film doesn’t look or feel like it takes place in 1941. The cinematography is “too clean” and bright, with no film graininess or tints to add to the experience there are times you would think you’re watching a modern-day set episode of “Boston Legal.”
Much like “All Eyes on Me” earlier this year “Marshall” is one of those films that may not be the most competently made, but dedicated central performances and excelling in what its central character did best (music for Tupac and law for Marshall) make it worth your time. Sure, much like Tupac there is a better way to tell the story of Thurgood Marshall than this film, but as a real-life American hero who has not received the big screen treatment, this is a worthy telling of his earlier life.
Critics Rating: 7/10