Marshall tells the story of Thurgood Marshall and a career defining case that he takes on in Connecticut during 1962. This is one of the most important, shocking, and interesting cases of his career and I wish I could say the movie did it justice. Sadly, Marshall is filled with pacing issues, genre clichés, over the top characters, and inconsistent acting. There are a few scenes that are respectable, but unfortunately in the end there are more issues than anything.
About a young Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, as he battles through one of his career-defining cases.
First off, Marshall’s first act is extremely slow and spends more time throwing information at you instead of establishing what the movie is actually about. The problem is a good amount of people know who Thurgood Marshall is, but not everyone knows the details of this particular case. Marshall just dives right into the case, making it hard for viewers with little knowledge on the case to keep up. The editing is all over the place as well, the first act truly feels like a rough cut of the film.
What makes Marshall so frustrating is that is does nothing for the courtroom drama genre and it doesn’t break any new ground when it comes to race related films. So much of the racial aspects feel forced and overdone and they’re definitely nothing we haven’t seen before. Movies like Selma and the slightly older Malcolm X served the genre far better because nothing felt forced. There were just a few too many scenes in Marshall where a few white men would approach Thurgood and make their extremely scripted and predictable comments. Director Reggie Hudlin seemed to rely too much on the well-known name of Thurgood instead of the writing. Hudlin has mostly directed TV shows in his career, and Marshall felt like a slightly better shot episode of Law and Order.
With all of the issues that Marshall has, there were a few enjoyable aspects. Chadwick Boseman delivered a solid performance as Thurgood Marshall, bringing some comedy to his role and seriousness when needed. I don’t think it is anything Oscar or Golden Globe worthy, but it was decent. Josh Gad also had a good performance as Sam Friedman. He did a fine job making his character seem believable in the situation that he definitely didn’t want to be in. He also had a good little character transformation, which was neat. Kate Hudson had the role of Eleanor Strubing, the woman who accused Joseph Spell of raping her. She wasn’t bad, but anyone else could have played her role and it wouldn’t have made a difference. Dan Stevens had the role of Loren Willis, the lawyer representing the state of Connecticut, and he was not good at all. There was so much over acting and over the top and forced racist remarks. Every time he was on-screen, I cringed.
The runtime clocked in at 1 hour and 58 minutes, and even though there were plenty of pacing issues, it honestly needed to be longer. This is one of the most important cases in history and you simply can’t capture its importance and impact in a two-hour movie. The story of Thurgood Marshall and this case in particular would have served better as a TV miniseries, similar to FX’s The People Vs OJ Simpson.
Overall, Marshall isn’t an awful movie but it’s not something to see in theaters. There’s no doubt how important Thurgood Marshall is to American history, but he deserved better than a cliche courtroom drama film that doesn’t even come close to capturing the importance of this case. This one may be better as a Redbox movie.