Marshall, directed by Reginald Hudlin, is a film depicting the early days of the NAACP and the rocket-like rise of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) to national prominence as an attorney. Set in 1941, the film focuses on many of the prejudices and predispositions that are prominent in the news to this day. Centered around the Connecticut vs. Spell case, which has Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) fighting an uphill battle to prove his innocence in a case that accuses him of assaulting a well-to-do housewife named Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). As many cases against African-Americans in the early part of the 20th century, the odds are stacked extremely high against Spell.
The film begins by juxtaposing Marshall arguing a case for an African-American man in the seemingly racist Hugo, Oklahoma with attorney Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) trying a run-of-the-mill accounting case in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for which he has gained a name for himself. When Marshall goes to leave Oklahoma on a train, he is intimidated by a group of white townsfolk while boarding, emphasizing the dangers of his chosen line of work.
The next scene brings Marshall to the NAACP offices in New York, New York, where his boss, Walter White (Roger Guenveur Smith), informs him of the pending case against Spell in Connecticut. This sends Marshall up north to try to help not only prove the innocence of Spell, but also to continue garnering support for the NAACP around the country. Marshall is then introduced to Friedman through northern NAACP representative Ted Lancaster (Derrick Baskin), who is Friedman’s childhood friend. Lancaster emphasizes that Friedman would be the perfect attorney to try the case.
The case begins with the two attorneys and the defendant meeting Judge Foster (James Cromwell) and prosecutor Loren Willis (Dan Stevens). Foster seems to be biased against the NAACP’s cause, but promises to uphold the integrity of the case. Willis is extremely prejudiced against African-Americans, and shows that right from the beginning of the case. Both Marshall and Friedman realize that they have an extremely daunting task from the beginning, and they realize that the case is bigger than themselves altogether, as race issues in the United States are continually coming to the forefront.
Boseman, who stars as Jackie Robinson in the film 42, as James Brown in Get On Up, and as the Black Panther in the Marvel Comics Universe, does a masterful job of portraying the future Supreme Court Justice, Marshall. He plays the role as a very cool, confident, and extremely intelligent lawyer whose indelible charm and wit eventually bring Marshall to the pinnacle of the United States judicial system.
Josh Gad also does a great job playing Sam Friedman, who is a foil to Boseman’s Marshall. His character is more nervous and methodical than Marshall, and at the beginning feels that the case should not involve him because of his squeaky clean, upper class background. Dealing with 1940s anti-Semitism, the character realizes the prejudices of the United States are not strictly assigned to African-Americans.
The supporting characters are also extremely well-rounded and interesting. Sterling Brown’s Joseph Spell, though unreliable through much of the film, is a stark contrast to his portrayal of Chris Darden, one the prosecutors in the O.J. Simpson trial in American Crime: The O.J. Simpson Trial. Spell is a servant to the rich Strubing family, and when accused of the crime, shows the emotions of fear, confusion, disbelief, and exhaustion in a very effective way. While being questioned by Marshall and Friedman, it is unclear whether he is truly afraid, withholding, or outright lying, which keeps the audience guessing. The Eleanor Stubing (Hudson) character, a member of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s elite community, is great as a femme-fatale character in the film. She is also an unreliable character, and Hudson sells the part.
As the trial progresses throughout the film, Hudlin does a good job of incorporating flashbacks into the descriptions of events. The flashbacks, depending on who is describing the event, change drastically. This gives the audience the ability to be a part of the jury, deciding who is telling the truth and who is trying to beat the system.
The historical element of the film is also very interesting. The film does a really good job of staying true to the original case, and follows much of the same timeline as the real thing. The characters’ stances are very true to reality, and gives the film a lot of credence.
In 2017, the issue of race relations is still on the forefront of the news, conversation, and social media; and Marshall is a great allegory for the current situation in the United States. Marshall will definitely be polarizing, but the acting and execution of the movie make it worth watching, no matter what beliefs or opinions a viewer has.