Courtesy of Open Road Pictures
“Marshall” is a breath of fresh-air as the deadline for Oscar contenders nears and we enter the never-ending Biopic portion of this movie season. Not only does “Marshall” avoid the common tropes and missteps of your average “true story” film, it also manages to offer some surprise twists and turns while the ever brilliant Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad prove quite the dynamic duo navigating this heart-wrenching material exquisitely.
In “Marshall,” the focus is on NAACP sole lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman giving yet another understatedly impressive performance) attempting to balance a home life between the endless battles against racial injustice that only he can seem to handle and he and his organization’s relative obscurity at this point. The film focuses on one of the first cases of the young lawyer’s career in which he forcefully recruits common insurance claims lawyer Sam Friedman (Gad proving decidedly that his dramatic abilities lie far beyond that of solely a comic sidekick) to be his co-council on a case out of his license’s jurisdiction. With the fate of his organization in the balance and a judge (James Cromwell delivering a measured yet nauseating performance as a bigoted judge) hellbent on keeping Thurgood from participating in the case, the stakes are set for this unlikely pair.
It is at this point that “Marshall” outdoes its predecessors and most of its contemporaries – rather than bore us with the PowerPoint slideshow effect of facts, figures, and details about the main character’s astonishing life accomplishments, instead we are thrust headfirst into a dramatically gripping and ever-pertinent courtroom drama that shows rather than tells. While Boseman is absolutely electric throughout, once into the proceedings watch for the scene-stealing Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell. Spell is accused of raping a white woman (played adequately by Kate Hudson – though for this reviewer’s taste, could’ve been better cast) and all evidence seems to be stacked against him; all too neatly in fact. Facing one of the top prosecutors in Loren Willis (Dan Stevens exhibiting his range, offering one of the most vitriolic/grimy performances of the film) and constant public torment will Marshall & Friedman be able to find the truth and save a potentially innocent man’s life?
A rhetorical question of course seeing as at this very moment any of us could go look up the real case and find the details out instantaneously, yet somehow Director Reginald Hudlin pulls us in so well with courtroom melodrama and a brilliant mixture of faux vs. real flashbacks we almost forget we’re watching a true story that unfolded so many years ago, and are instead left to reflect how eerily and unfortunately relatable this case could still be to many.
While social issue, biopic, and homage films become ever more omnipresent it’s a welcome relief and cause for celebration to find one in “Marshall” that actually manages to entertain while duly emulating its referential focal point. Boseman, Gad, and Hudlin deserve all of the rants and raves they hopefully have coming this award’s season. A
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matthew Porter is a guest columnist and film critic for TheOnlyCritic.com. He will be bringing forth some new perspective and reviewing various films occasionally. You can follow him on Twitter (@Mattttttttthew)