"Marshall"

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Marshall Thurgood was the first attorney for the NAACP. He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, including one Brown v. Board of Education. In fact, in 1967 Thurgood became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme court. A feat that didn't go unnoticed given that 50 years later we finally have a Hollywood movie about the man.


Albeit a tiny glimpse of a key moment in his life. Chadwick Boseman ("Get On Up," "42") plays Thurgood with all the confidence and panache needed to do justice to the legend in director Reginald Hudlin's "Marshall." Hudlin brings the Hollywood gloss and conventional narrative structure to a film that feels all too familiar and which doesn't bring anything new to the courtroom genre. Too bad, because the story's a gimme.

It's 1941 and a 33 years old Marshall is about to embark on a case that will change his life.  He's sent to Connecticut where a black man, Joseph Spell ("The People VS OJ" MVP Sterling K Brown), is being accused of raping a white woman (a surprisingly effective Kate Hudson). The always reliable Josh Gad is Marshall's co-counsel Sam Friedman, whose forced onto the job by his superior.

The film focuses on the dynamic that Boseman and Gad had as they tried to solve the case, both have the kind of chemistry that is needed to make a good movie. It's interesting to see Gad's Friedman experience bigotry himself as a Jew and how his community fears reprisal for his defense of a black man accused of rape. Too bad then that some of the other characters veer on being caricatures more than fully-fleshed roles. Worst of all is prosecutor Loren Willis, whose racist tendencies have no subtleties whatsoever and give-out a cartoonish demeanor. Brown is underutilized, we know he's a talented actor, but he's barely in any scenes and is left mostly sitting in the courtroom and observing the lawyers speaking, when he does have his chance to shine it becomes the film's best scene as his character takes the stand trying to explain what really happened and why he might have lied about certain things. It's the kind of scene that brings invigorating fervor to a film otherwise lacking in it and even more than just a bit of social relevance to today's world.

Sure, there are moments where I was easily invested in the goings-on, but cliches are too many to overlook. It doesn't help that the visual style Hudlin decides to implement is dull and pedantic. Known mostly for his TV work, the 55-year-old director had a promising start to his career when he made 1990's "House Party." but then a series of duds were awaiting, most notably "The Ladies Man," "Serving Sara," "The Great White Hype," and, lord almighty, the Eddie Murphy bomb "Boomerang." It's bewildering to think just how a studio would choose him to tell such an important and inspiringly relevant story. "Marshall," could have been a contender, but it just sits there awash in familiarity. [C+]
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