By Jonathan Silverman, Contributing Writer
Led by director Reginald Hudlin, previously a producer for “Django Unchained,” and backed by a star studded cast that includes Kate Hudson, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, and Josh Gad, ”Marshall” aims at being a thrilling, power-packed court drama. Unfortunately, this amazingly talented cast is confined to a bland script that leaves the audience feeling anything but thrilled.
”Marshall” is far from a traditional biopic. Instead of chronicling Thurgood Marshall’s (Chadwick Boseman) time as a Supreme Court Justice, it focuses on Thurgood Marshall in 1940 when he worked as a lawyer for the NAACP. In the film, Marshall travels to conservative Connecticut and teams up with a local Jewish lawyer, who has never handled a criminal case, in order to help defend a black chauffeur who was wrongfully charged with raping his white mistress. Together, the two men attempt to build a defense while trying to overcome racial and anti-semitic adversity in and out of the courtroom.
The story alone is inspiring: it shows Thurgood Marshall exposing racism in the North amid a climate filled with racial and political tension, similar to that of today. Although the story deserves to be the subject matter of a soon-to-be wide release film, it is the execution that falters due to its inability to surpass the bars set by previous court thrillers and overall poor acting. Sterling K. Brown, whose claim to fame are his stellar performances in ”This Is Us” and ”American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson,” misses the mark in his portrayal of a falsely accused black chauffeur, Joseph Spell. His performance is a disappointment, since he frequently wavers in and out of character throughout the film. Additionally, Kate Hudson and Chadwick Boseman provide serviceable performances, but the lack of range and uninteresting dialogue makes their performances less than memorable. Despite the subpar dialogue and B-rate performances, Gad’s humor and lovable personality makes the film watchable. He constantly provides the audience with some lighthearted humor and gives the most convincing performance. Gad and Boseman have substantial chemistry, which is necessary, since the movie focuses on their relationship throughout the court trial.
The Forum on Law, Culture & Society at NYU School of Law hosted a pre-release screening of ”Marshall” in the Tishman Auditorium on September 23rd, followed by a post-screening panel with the cast. The turnout for the film was the most ever recorded for an FOLCS film screening event. The panel included Josh Gad, who plays the Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman in the film, Chadwick Boseman, Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, who plays the white mistress Eleanor Strubing, and director Reginald Hudlin. The panel was by far the most entertaining part of the night. Gad cracked countless witty jokes while also providing interesting insight about his character and the film as a whole. Having him be the best part of the panel was only fitting, since he happened to be the one bright spot in this dull court drama.
”Marshall” is a story of hope that seeks to lift the spirits of those disparaged by racial inequality and the lack of justice in our judicial system. It is an unconventional biopic told in a conventional way, following the typical three act formula and foreshadowing various plot points in a very obvious manner. “Marshall’s” message is uplifting, but it is the way in which it is told that diminishes its ultimate purpose and leaves the viewer disappointed.
‘Marshall’ opens in theaters on Friday, October 13th.