- Matthew Turner
- 18 October 2017
Chadwick Boseman is the charismatic centre of an engaging, courtroom-based biopic
After playing Jackie Robinson in 42 and James Brown in Get on Up, actor Chadwick Boseman (Marvel's Black Panther) adds to his roster of important figures of the 20th century with his role as Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP lawyer who would later take on the landmark Brown v Board of Education case and become America's first African-American Supreme Court justice.
Less a traditional biopic than a satisfyingly old-fashioned courtroom drama, Marshall takes place in 1940 and focuses on a single case. As the chief counsel for the NAACP, Marshall is sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut to represent Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown), a driver accused of the rape and attempted murder of his white employer, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).
However, the judge (James Cromwell) rules that since he's not a member of the Connecticut bar, Marshall won't be allowed to speak in court, so he's forced to rely on his Jewish co-counsel Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a small-time insurance lawyer only hired to officially assign Marshall the case.
Boseman has charisma to burn and his magnetic screen presence is accentuated by director Reginald Hudlin, who frequently shoots him from below to make him appear even more heroic. He also generates strong, likeable chemistry with Gad, who's on equally terrific form as the nebbish lawyer forced to step up and argue the biggest case of his life. Hudson brings touching depth to Mrs Strubing, and Dan Stevens is good value as the slimy prosecutor.
Co-written by veteran civil rights lawyer Michael Koskoff with his screenwriter son Jacob, the script is alive to the pleasures of the courtroom drama, with all the objections, sustainings and overrulings you could reasonably hope for, while the film also makes a series of resonant points about bigotry and female sexuality. It's attractively shot by Newton Thomas Sigel and Hudlin maintains an engaging sense of pace throughout. In fact, the end result is so compelling that it leaves you wanting to see Thurgood take on his next case. Is a TV series based on Marshall's career too much to ask for?
General release from Fri 20 Oct.