Chadwick Boseman Provides Appetizing Oscar Bait as ‘Marshall’

Many may have heard of Thurgood Marshall, the man who went on to become the first black judge in the U.S. Supreme Court. His journey to the bench found him fighting 32 cases at the Supreme Court level, which is the most in U.S. history. Most famously, Marshall presided over Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. “Marshall” focuses on one of his lesser-known cases, State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell in 1941. While the film only depicts a sliver of this man’s life, the film brilliantly provides a window into his true character.

In the winter of 1940, a woman by the name of Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) claimed that she was repeatedly raped by her black live-in chauffeur-butler, Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown, “This Is Us”). Strubing came from old money and was married to a very wealthy advertising executive, while Spell had come from rural Louisiana. The case made for rather harsh headlines, fueling flames to the already tense racial state. As a result of the allegations, many panic-stricken Westchester families fire their black servants. The outlash paired with a rather outlandish claim catches the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s top lawyer, Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman).

Boseman exudes a sense of confidence as the New York attorney. The 41-year-old actor, who portrayed Baseball legend, Jackie Robinson in “42,” and Black Panther in the Blockbuster Marvel franchise is no stranger to playing a variant of hero’s on the big screen. Often times, biopics and dramas depicting real people portray the historical figure as more of an impression rather than an actual three-dimensional character. But that is not the case here. Boseman gives us a look at the early days of this eager and determined man, with humanistic quality.  

Judge Colin Foster (appropriately played by James Cromwell), rules that Marshall cannot serve as Spell’s defense attorney because he is not from Connecticut, the state in which the trial takes place. The judge does, however, allow him to sit at the defense table, but rules that Marshall cannot speak a single word inside the courtroom. This leads to the search for another defense attorney.

Enter the inexperienced Samuel Friedman (Josh Grad). Under Marshall’s guidance, it is up to Friedman to try the case. The two form a unique bond under the trying pressures and conflicts that procure from handling a pressing court case. The relationship between a less than confident Friedman and an overly assertive Marshall creates an interesting juxtaposition. Thus, a buddy-like duo is formed. The chemistry between Boseman and Grad harkens to buddy-comedy troupes, which lends itself quite nicely in the context of the film.

For Hudson, an actress who once drove large commercial movies, the supporting role of Eleanor Strubing was quite befitting. The role provided the “Almost Famous” actress with just enough meat for her to bite into.  

Unlike most courtroom dramas, the script penned by father and son duo, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Koskoff, kept a relatively entertaining pace with very little dull time. Director Reginald Hudlin (“House Party” and “The Ladies Man”) allotted the actors a platform to shine, but the framework was rather procedural and nothing of significance. The direction does, however, make some room for a healthy mix of comedy – leading to an amusing and intriguing final product.

Marshall” opens in theaters Oct. 13.