Thurgood Marshall is one of the most famous Supreme Court justices in history, and the new movie “Marshall” presents the incredible true story of one legal case that set him on the path to became such a legendary figure. The events in the film take place in 1940s Connecticut, when Thurgood Marshall, then just a young, aspiring lawyer for the NAACP, is called on to defend a black chauffeur from charges of sexual assault and murder in the famous legal case Connecticut vs. Joseph Spell.
“Marshall” is an epic courtroom drama
First and foremost, then, “Marshall” is a legal drama that plays out in the courtroom as the lawyers Thurgood Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Sam Friedman (played by Josh Gad) must defend Joseph Spell (played by Sterling K. Brown) from nearly indefensible charges. Everyone in the local community thinks that Spell is guilty of the crimes, and it doesn’t help matters any that Marshall is black and Friedman is Jewish. In 1940’s Connecticut, being anything other than lily white was grounds for potential discrimination. Winning the case would mean overcoming the entrenched racism and anti-Semitism of the era.
In many ways, “Marshall” will remind you of some of Hollywood’s most famous legal dramas, such as “Witness for the Prosecution” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Thurgood Marshall has a nearly unwinnable case, and his only hope of winning is by chipping away at the lies and half-truths from the wealthy Connecticut socialite Eleanor Strubling (played by Kate Hudson). This is a potentially dangerous legal maneuver, as the case rapidly turns into an example of “he said/she said.” Given this mutability of the truth, is it really possible that a jury will vote in favor of Marshall’s client, Joseph Spell?
Moreover, there’s one other little wrinkle that Marshall must take into account – he is not allowed to speak in the courtroom, despite being co-counsel on the case. That means that he must rely on his co-counsel, Sam Friedman, to argue the specific points of the case, while he is much more in charge of overall legal strategy.
Some of the best scenes in the movie come when Spell and Strubling are called on to testify in the courtroom. We see events told by flashback in noir-ish black and white. As Marshall tries to separate the lies from the truth, we witness his stunning transformation as an idealistic young trial lawyer, and how his brilliant mind worked.
“Marshall” features standout performances that bring the incredible story to life
The movie boasts a stand-out role from Chadwick Boseman, who also played Jackie Robinson in the critically acclaimed “42,” as well as a fantastic supporting role from Josh Gad, who plays Sam Friedman, the Jewish lawyer on the case. The way the two actors interact help to lend an entertaining dimension to the film. In one scene, for example, the young, self-important Thurgood Marshall arrives in Connecticut and immediately expects that Sam Friedman will carry his bags. You can just imagine how that’s going to go over with an equally confident and accomplished lawyer! Throughout the film, the chemistry between Boseman and Gad is almost palpable, and it is definitely part of what makes the film so enjoyable.
“Marshall” is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking
“Marshall” is incredibly entertaining as a film. One reason for that is that the film doesn’t try to be too important or too big. It doesn’t make the mistake of other films that try to depict every event in the life of a modern-day hero as being larger-than-life or the figure as being somehow preordained for greatness. Life doesn’t work that way.
Instead, we see Marshall as he actually was back in the 1940s – he was young, idealistic and talented, but had absolutely no idea that he was going to eventually become an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. And we get no inkling in the movie that Thurgood Marshall would eventually be the one to argue the case of Brown vs. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court.
That, of course, is part of the brilliance of this movie. It is not meant to be a monumental documentary or biopic – it is, instead, intended as a fast-paced, entertaining drama in which the main characters happen to be lawyers. This is a film that knows its role, and knows that the emphasis should be on good storytelling, and not on trying to turn Thurgood Marshall into a mythical figure.
“Marshall” gives us incredible glimpses into the real life of Thurgood Marshall
While most people are probably aware of the legend of Thurgood Marshall, they probably have little or no idea of the intimate details of his life. And so this is one place where the film really shines – it shows us the relationship that the lawyer Marshall had with the writer Langston Hughes, and it also goes behind-the-scenes into his marriage.
We find out how Marshall often had to make a decision between the law and his family, and how powerfully he believed in the potential of the legal system to deliver a righteous outcome. You can see how his experience working on this one legal case definitely led him in the direction of eventually becoming a member of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Marshall” will inspire a new generation of lawyers with its incredible story
It’s hard not to be inspired by the film “Marshall.” Here we have an idealistic young lawyer who went toe-to-toe against the system, and who was willing to go anywhere the NAACP sent him, as long as he could pursue his dream of making an impact on society through the practice of law.
It’s no wonder that “Marshall” has picked up such rave reviews from critics and viewers alike. On Rotten Tomatoes, for example, “Marshall” has a spectacular 86% freshness rating. The film is more than just a gripping courtroom drama – it is the incredible true story of how one of the most famous lawyers of our generation took on a case that was almost impossible to win, and battled against a system that was very much stacked against him. That will surely inspire others who see the film “Marshall” to follow in the path created by Thurgood Marshall in order to pursue truth, justice and righteousness.