Fascinating re-creation of one of Justice Thurgood Marshall's early cases and brilliant home runs for both Chadwick Boseman "Black Panther" (the superhero, not the violent political group) as Marshall and Josh Gad as his reluctant Jewish co-counsel.
When you make a movie about a figure as historically significant as Thurgood Marshall (the first black United States Supreme Court Justice), it is tempting for the filmmakers to want to cover his entire life story. The creators of Marshall, however, wisely and cleverly instead, focus on one of his early cases, The State of Connecticutt vs. Joseph Spell, and use it as a microcosm of Justice Marshall’s life’s work and legal career.
The story which plays out during the course of the movie like an episode of Perry Mason, is the little known but real case of Eleanor Strubing who accused her back chauffeur Joseph Spell of raping, binding, then throwing her in the reservoir. Spell claimed he was innocent.
Chadwick (Black Panther) Boseman steps into the shoes of the young Thurgood Marshall with the self confidence that makes him believable portraying both the man who would eventually be appointed as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court as well as leader of the Black Panther Clan and King of Wakanda in the upcoming Black Panther franchise.
And in a surprise turn Josh (Murder on the Orient Express) Gad hits his second homerun as Sam Friedman, a Jewish lawyer, familiar with being the target of bigotry himself, who normally only did insurance civil cases but was dragged into this controversy magnet legal team with extreme reluctance by the necessity to have a local co-counsel for Marshall, the unwanted and out of state lawyer.
The story examines the bigotry and prejudice in the high society and northern judicial system rampant in Connecticut, which institutional racism was not only aimed at blacks but also towards the tragically frightened Jews of the pre-World War II community who are just beginning to hear the horror stories coming out of Germany.
Kate (Goldie Hawn’s daughter, Nine, Raising Helen, You, Me & Dupree) Hudson plays Eleanor Strubing, the socialite ice queen around whom the turmoil spins. Dan (Beauty and the Beast, Night at the Museum) Stevens is Loren Willis, the aristocratic, well connected prosecuting attorney. And James (Babe, I Robot) Cromwell presides as Judge Foster, a man not a stranger to expressing racism himself.
Gad and Boseman hit all the marks of good chemistry, bringing a comfortable and occasionally humorous friendly-antagonistic buddy movie element to the story, as well as embody the rich history of those who were not respected in the autocratic northern communities. Bonded by the common state of being accomplished men who were nonetheless outcasts, they begin from polar opposite goals – Friedman from a desire initially to keep his head down and not connected to this highly charged case, and Marshall who seeks to frankly use Spell to further the "greater good" goals of the fledgling N.A.A.C.P. Boseman and Friedman inform each other during the course of the movie into operating outside of their normal comfort zones, and the result is a team I would enjoy seeing work together again.
There is much more food for fodder in the life of Justice Marshall and it would be interesting to see it played out if done as well as this first installment.
There are adult themes in Marshall, involving sexuality both visually and discussed, including some graphic but necessary courtroom descriptions. There are demonstrations of institutionalized racism, some profanity and some violence. But the value of the story for older teens and up is well worth the discussions which will inevitably arise from the watching of this movie, especially between parents and children.