The mak­ing of Mar­shall

A glimpse of the early ca­reer of a civil-rights icon

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - BILL GOODYKOONTZ

We tend to think of icons as spring­ing forth fully formed, but that’s not the case.

They’re made, not born, and the story be­hind their mak­ing is im­por­tant if we are to un­der­stand the full im­port of their lives.

It’s easy to think of Thur­good Mar­shall, vic­tor in the sem­i­nal Brown v. the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion and the first black man to serve as a Supreme Court jus­tice, as an icon. He sat as an as­so­ciate jus­tice for 24 years, an in­te­gral mem­ber of the Court. It seemed as if he’d al­ways been there.

But he wasn’t born there. Regi­nald

Hudlin’s “Mar­shall“shows us, in part, how he got there. It’s not a tra­di­tional, cover-all-the-bases biopic. In­stead, the film fo­cuses on a sin­gle case.

In 1941 the NAACP dispatches Mar-

shall, played by Chad­wick Bose­man, to Bridge­port, Conn., to de­fend Joseph Spell (Ster­ling K. Brown), ac­cused of rap­ing wealthy Eleanor Sturb­ing (Kate Hud­son). Here, one sup­poses, Mar­shall won’t find the overt racism of the deep south, where he’s been been de­fend­ing clients.

And it’s true — in Bridge­port the racism is more covert, and in­sid­i­ous. Mar­shall isn’t a mem­ber of the Con­necti­cut bar, so the pre­sid­ing judge (James Cromwell, out­stand­ing) de­crees that, while he can be part of the de­fense team, Mar­shall can­not speak. He’ll need to find a lead coun­sel, and he winds up with Sam Fried­man (Josh Gad). The good news is Fried­man re­luc­tantly agrees, af­ter much co­er­cion from Mar­shall, to take the case. The bad news is Fried­man has never tried a crim­i­nal case, just in­sur­ance and ac­ci­dents.

Thus an un­likely team is formed, and as with all of Mar­shall’s cases, it must op­pose both the pros­e­cu­tor (Dan Stevens, con­tempt leak­ing out of his ears, prac­ti­cally) and in­her­ent racism.

But Mar­shall isn’t just bril­liant. He’s also savvy. Fried­man stum­bles around at first, out of his el­e­ment, but Mar­shall prods him along.

The bulk of the movie plays like a typ­i­cal court­room drama. There are also flashes of pres­sure at home, where Mar­shall’s wife, Buster (Kee­sha Sharp), waits while her hus­band barn­storms from one case to the next, but not nearly enough. Mar­shall and Fried­man also must bat­tle, some­times with their fists, lo­cal cretins who take mat­ter into their own hands.

It’ll boil down to tes­ti­mony from Sturb­ing and Spell, and the way the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fense han­dle it, a struc­ture no dif­fer­ent from any num­ber of films.

Bose­man and Gad are both good. Mar­shall drinks and smokes and fights in a bar; cer­tainly that’s a side of him we haven’t seen be­fore. If any­thing, he’s por­trayed as a lit­tle too good at his job, a risk-taker whose ev­ery court­room hunch pays off.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing ap­proach to the story, but it also holds the film back a bit. Hudlin lets his­tory do some of the work of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. The case is im­por­tant, of course. But it seems even more so be­cause of Mar­shall’s in­volve­ment — not be­cause of who he is, re­source­ful and res­o­lute though he may be, but be­cause of who he will be­come.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.