Cinematic Releases: Marshall (2017) - Reviewed

Veteran comedy director Reginald Hudlin of House Party, Boomerang and The Ladies Man hit a road block with his 2002 critical and commercial dud Serving Sara before diving into television work for the past fifteen years.  With the 1940s courtroom drama Marshall concerning an early case in the life of attorney Thurgood Marshall, Hudlin returns to the director’s chair with arguably his first serious minded picture.  Starring Chadwick Boseman as the historic first African-American Supreme Court Justice, the biographical legal drama concerns an attorney set to defend a black man named Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) accused of rape and attempted murder of a wealthy white woman, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).  When the Judge (James Cromwell) blocks Marshall from defending his client, he enlists the help of Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a Jewish insurance attorney tasked with trying his first criminal case.

This will be the fourth figure of historical significance Boseman has played and given his stride it is unlikely he’ll stop anytime soon.  Much like Denzel Washington, the man exudes class, confidence and razor-sharp wit who takes his profession very seriously while also giving off the subtle whiff of an impish prankster.  Josh Gad as the inexperienced Friedman who finds himself embroiled in more than he bargained for mostly fares well though I couldn’t help but confuse him with Jonah Hill a few times while watching.  Providing a solid adversary is the prosecuting attorney Lorin Willis (Dan Stevens), whose threatening gaze can’t help but recall his psychopath in Adam Wingard’s The Guest.  As a first drama for director Hudlin, it’s a solid change of pace though occasional some of his trademark humor bleeds through.

Initially this looked from the outset like a made-for-television drama bumped up to theaters ala Trumbo but upon watching it proved to be highly cinematic.  Shot by Drive cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel and scored by veteran Jazz musician Marcus Miller, the film possesses a moody cool and technical prowess far ahead of the recent string of civil rights and justice dramas.  Mostly though this is Boseman and Gad’s show as the unlikely dynamic duo fire back at one another with relish when they aren’t working feverishly to the brink of their mutual professions.  It's also been a while since we last saw Kate Hudson at the forefront again and she's given a lot of heavy lifting to do as the accuser who may or may not be telling the whole story.

Much like Young Mr. Lincoln, the film is less concerned with who it’s subject would become than examining one of the many chapters in his life that led him to his position.  Some of the tropes of this kind of drama set in this period can be spotted a mile away but when Marshall is ensconced in legalese while exacerbating the uphill battle faced by it’s future Supreme Court Justice, it often is a compelling courtroom exercise.  While I'm not going to call it a great movie, there's a captivating drama here that will for most viewers keen on the historical legal drama be time well spent.

- Andrew Kotwicki