Wayback Wednesday: Marshall (2017)

Chadwick Boseman is such a gift.

In a year that featured some of the most bizarre news stories imaginable, one of the most shocking pieces by far was of the untimely passing of Chadwick Boseman. That one hit like a punch to the gut. Some days I still can’t believe that the beloved star is actually gone. Though he’s severely missed, thankfully the actor leaves behind a catalogue of phenomenal movies for fans to remember him by. Movies that highlight the impact and legacy that made Boseman so influential to a generation of moviegoers. Movies like, Marshall (2017).

Credit: imdb.com / Open Road Films

Based on true events, Marshall tells the story of Thurgood Marshall, a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Set in 1941, Thurgood works with Connecticut lawyer Sam Friedman to defend Joseph Spell, a Black chauffeur accused of raping his wealthy white employer, Eleanor Strubing.

As I was watching the onslaught of injustice in Marshall, I had a thought. Period pieces based on true stories are great at showing the progress made over the years, but I think sometimes they numb people to the idea that just because terrible things happened in the past, there’s no way they could happen today. Joseph Spell’s story is one that’s all too familiar and I think I’m ready for some movies based on more current events just so we aren’t lulled into falsely believing that events like this are restricted to the 1940s. But that’s just my little diatribe on why we need to cover history as it’s being made when it comes to biopics.

Even if it weren’t based on a true story, Marshall is an intriguing legal drama. Is it one of the best or most surprising movies ever played out in a courtroom? Not particularly. But it’s strong and compelling, with a few surprises that’ll keep viewers invested. The direction isn’t particularly impressive though. Most of the action happens in a courtroom or a law office so this is a very dialogue-heavy movie that you better be ready to pay attention to. From a directorial, technical standpoint Marshall isn’t much to write home about. That being said, it’s definitely Chadwick Boseman’s magnetic performance that makes Marshall worthwhile. God, I could talk about the range of that man’s talent for days.

The supporting cast are all fine enough but really they’re living props used to highlight Boseman’s leading performance and provide him with opportunities to shine. I don’t mean that disrespectfully. Their roles are to further the story along and they each do so perfectly. By the way, what a stacked cast in this movie. Marshall is filled with great actors whose natural talents are only bolstered by the material of the script. Dan Stevens and Sterling K. Brown are sensational on any day of the week but give them a courtroom drama to sink their teeth into and they really shine. Brown especially. He’s a phenomenal dramatic actor (one of the best on-cue criers working today) and after Boseman, the strongest part of Marshall.

As expected, Boseman delivers another wonderful turn as the titular character. His performance captures the resilience and determination of the protagonist, his focus on the fight for justice just as sharp as his biting wit. It’s a performance that commands attention. I could easily see Boseman playing Thurgood as the lead in a crime procedural. He’s intelligent, resourceful and seemingly unflappable. Boseman captures Thurgood’s fiery passion for justice. This is a man who fearlessly stood up for equality every day in both his professional and personal lives and the struggle the fight took on him is evident. Every time I witness Boseman’s pure raw talent I’m blown away. He’s a talented actor period, but he had a real gift for stepping into the skin of each character he played. He was able to make these larger than life figures seem immensely human and less intimidating. And always relatable. Sigh…it pains me to think of all the incredible characters he could have brought to life.

The movie may deliver on thrilling courtroom deliberation and moving monologues, but what I found lacking about Marshall was the amount of depth given to its lead character. Take away Boseman’s charisma and Thurgood comes off as an underdeveloped and pretty generic protagonist. What I think really would have sold the character is offering some insight into his background. Maybe there could have been flashbacks of his own brushes with racism and prejudice, or his burgeoning interest in law and journey to becoming a lawyer for the NAACP. If those scenes had been spliced in between the ongoing court case I think we would have seen a more well-rounded portrayal of the trailblazing lawyer. Might that have derailed the central story? Possibly. But it’s the type of development I believe needs to be done when you have a character who is as passionate, hardworking, and dedicated as Thurgood Marshall. In fact, my biggest takeaway from this movie is my interest in wanting to learn more about the life and work of the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Marshall is a perfectly fine movie. While I think that there are minor elements that could have been executed better, the overall product is a rousing drama that satisfies. If you’re like me and missing the presence of Chadwick Boseman, do yourself a favour and watch the great performance he delivers. Hmmm, after reviewing 42 (2013) last February – check out my review, here – and now Marshall, do I review Get On Up (2014) next year? I think I have to!

Have you seen Marshall?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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