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Blu-ray Review: Marshall

February 20, 2018

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Taking place thirteen years before he would become the first African-American Supreme Court Justice in 1954, Marshall focuses on a court case from earlier on in the career of famed civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman).

The year is 1940, and Marshall is working for the NAACP in Baltimore, when he is sent to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a young black chauffeur who is accused of raping and attempting to murder his wealthy employer Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), but insists that he is innocent and has been falsely accused.

Marshall’s partner on the case is the young Jewish lawyer Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad), an insurance attorney who has never argued in a criminal court, and together they mount a defence of Spell, but the odds are stacked against them.  The two lawyers have to go up against a jury that sympathizes with Strubing merely for the fact that she is white, and they face a tough prosecutor in Loren Willis (Dan Stevens), who makes no secret of his racial bias, while also having to contend with racist and Anti-Semitic attacks due to their public involvement in the case.

Thurgood Marshall is of course famous for his work on Brown v. the Board of Education, a landmark case which in itself would have made for a gripping film.  But by focusing on a lesser known case from earlier in his career, Marshall is able to unfold with a certain level of mystery, while also working as a character study of him as a person.  Chadwick Boseman – who is currently riding high after a mammoth opening weekend for Black Panther – brings texture to his portrayal of this historical giant, imbuing him with a level of quiet confidence behind his determination to preserve justice.  Josh Gad also shines in a rare dramatic performance, and they are backed up by solid performances from the supporting cast.

The flashbacks showing what happened on the night in question feel somewhat cheesy, and the film doesn’t flesh out all of its supporting characters as well as it perhaps could have, at times feeling more like the first episode of a mini-series.  But Marshall functions as a fairly engaging and well acted legal drama, that finds its rhythm in the courtroom scenes.  The film is able to maintain interest in the proceedings, unfolding with the feel of a good old fashioned procedural.

The film also takes on added relevance now in the midst of the #MeToo movement, where the court of public opinion reigns supreme, reminding us of the importance of due process, even in cases of sexual assault where the media has already decided the guilt of the accused.  This is altogether a decent legal drama, that is worth seeing for another magnetic performance by Chadwick Boseman.  The film also received an Oscar nomination for the song “Stand Up for Something,” which plays over the end credits and is performance by Common and Diane Warren.

The Blu-ray includes no bonus features.

Marshall is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

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