Rated PG-13, 118 minutes
The courtroom drama "Marshall" focuses on one of the early cases of a young Thurgood Marshall, would go on to be a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. Well-acted and sprinkled with some compelling moments, the script doesn't take its subject seriously enough, often playing it for misplaced humor, coming across as a special episode of "Law & Order" with some fancy period costumes and cars.
Young Thurgood Marshall ("42's" Chadwick Boseman, tackling another important historical figure) faces one of his greatest challenges while working as a lawyer for the NAACP. Marshall travels to conservative Connecticut when wealthy socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson) accuses black chauffeur Joseph Spell ("This is Us's" Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown) of sexual assault and attempted murder. He partners with Sam Friedman ("Frozen's" Josh Gad), a local Jewish lawyer who's expertise doesn't lie with criminal cases. Together, the two men build a defense while contending with local racist and anti-Semitic views.
The well-acted but uneven "Marshall" is directed by "Django Unchained" producer Reginald Hudlin, and co-written by father-son writing duo Michael Koskoff and Jacob Koskoff. It's a mediocre attempt to explore one of the early cases of Supreme Court Justice and towering Civil Rights figure Marshall; this seems cherry-picked, given all the
cases Marshall argued, not to mention it's one of his lesser ones too, yet it's easy to see why: it provides for some easy, entertaining courtroom fodder that becomes the highlight of the film.
Also inexplicable is the decision by the writers and director to add some flat comedic touches to an important figure and case, and it seems to make light of the very statements it makes about racism in American society. Boseman, who's become the go-to guy for biopics about important African-American figures, this is his third after all, having already played Jackie Robinson and James Brown, is solid as usual as Marshall, but of the three figures he's played, this is the weakest of the three.
Gad is miscast as his partner in the case, Friedman, and it would've worked better had the intent actually been to make a comedy, but the rest of the cast does well. Kate Hudson has some good moments as the wealthy socialite who is the subject of the case as does "The Guest's" Dan Stevens as the opposing attorney. Nearly stealing the film in a small but poignant role as the man accused of rape is Emmy-winner Sterling K. Brown, who delivers the film's most effective monologue as to why he may not have told the truth.
Note to the filmmakers: this isn't a comedy and shouldn't be played as one, and all the comedic touches aren't funny given the situation. Even with that, it still pulls few surprises, and barely skims the surface of Marshall's personal life, which would've been more interesting than the case. "Marshall" isn't a terrible film, but it isn't a great one either, and its central figure, Thurgood Marshall, deserves a better treatment than this.