Su­per­hero for civil rights move­ment

Bose­man tack­les another in­spi­ra­tional role as the ground­break­ing lawyer Mar­shall


Movie Re­view

Mar­shall Warn­ing: 14A Grade: BTheatres, show­times, pages 30-31

Thur­good Mar­shall, a ti­tan of 20th-cen­tury law and a civil rights pi­o­neer, has un­til now largely eluded Hol­ly­wood’s no­tice. De­spite its ti­tle, Mar­shall, too, is wary of tak­ing on the Supreme Court jus­tice in full, stick­ing to a mi­nor case from Mar­shall’s early ca­reer as coun­sel for the NAACP.

That makes, for bet­ter and worse, a some­times slight, some­times se­ri­ous court­room drama, shot through with bright cer­tainty in the com­ing tri­umphs for Mar­shall and the civil rights move­ment. It’s a su­per­hero-style ori­gin story: Thur­good, preBrown v. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, pre­black robe.

And there’s some­thing bul­let­proof about Mar­shall, as played by Chad­wick Bose­man, in Regi­nald Hudlin’s film. Bose­man has launched him­self as a lead­ing man with an am­bi­tious trio of his­tor­i­cal African-Amer­i­can fig­ures: Jackie Robin­son, James Brown and now Mar­shall. His gift isn’t in con­nect­ing deeply to these char­ac­ters, but in cap­tur­ing an in­nate and un­stop­pable swag­ger. His icons are for­ward-mov­ing forces of tal­ent and charisma that no big­otry could hope to con­tain.

In Mar­shall, the lawyer is sent to Bridge­port, Conn., to rep­re­sent a black chauf­feur, Joseph Spell (Ster­ling K. Brown), who has been ac­cused by his wealthy, white Green­wich so­cialite em­ployer (Kate Hud­son) of rape and at­tempted mur­der. Mar­shall, then 33, is an outof-state lawyer who needs a lo­cal lawyer to help try the case, turn­ing to the re­luc­tant in­sur­ance lawyer Sam Fried­man (Josh Gad).

The sub­ur­ban New Eng­land set­ting dif­fers greatly from the South­ern ter­rain where most civil rights bat­tles were fought and where Mar­shall had tried many of his early land­mark cases. But it roils with much of the same racism. Mar­shall is barred from speak­ing in court by a judge (James Cromwell) lit­tle im­pressed by the NAACP’s man­date to en­sure black de­fen­dants get a fair trial.

But from the mo­ment Mar­shall breezes into the New Haven train sta­tion and hands his bags to Fried­man to carry, he oozes an un­trou­bled be­lief in his cause and his tac­ti­cal prow­ess at trial. He needs no as­sis­tance and he gives no quar­ter to prej­u­dice, telling Fried­man to ob­ject over ev­ery racial bias. Where oth­ers stay mum, he proudly de­clares from the court­house steps:

“The Con­sti­tu­tion was not writ­ten for us. We know that. But no mat­ter what it takes, we’re go­ing to make it work for us. From now on, we claim it as our own.”

He’s an un­de­ni­ably em­pow­er­ing and in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure and Mar­shall is a smooth and straight­for­ward pack­age. That the stakes for jus­tice are high is never in ques­tion, es­pe­cially once Spell — and the ex­treme poise of Brown — takes the stand.

But Mar­shall doesn’t go for the kind of grav­ity echoed, say, in the one-man play Thur­good, which James Earl Jones per­formed on the stage and Lau­rence Fish­burne on the screen. There’s a light comic in­ter­play be­tween Bose­man and Gad. Mar­shall sorts the case out with­out crack­ing a book or break­ing a sweat.

And Con­necti­cut has never ex­actly had the dra­matic pull of other states when it comes to civil rights bat­tles or, well, most any­thing else.

But not all civil rights bat­tles need to carry the weight of the world on their shoul­ders. That will fall to fu­ture in­stal­ments of Mar­shall’s ex­ploits — and up­com­ing films for Bose­man, who’ll soon star as the Marvel hero in Black Pan­ther.


Josh Gad, left, Chad­wick Bose­man and Ster­ling K. Brown star in Mar­shall.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.