|Image courtesy of Open Road Films.|
The film, which is directed by Reginald Hudlin ("Boomerang" and "House Party") follows the Hollywood playbook much more so than, say, Ava DuVernay's "Selma" in terms of recent films about the civil rights era. However, it's an engaging period piece featuring fine performances by Boseman and Josh Gad, who is typically confined to silly comedies, but here portrays Sam Friedman, a Bridgeport civil trial attorney who assisted Marshall with the case after a judge refused to allow Marshall to speak in the courtroom.
In some ways, Marshall and Friedman are set up as partners in a buddy movie, relegating Friedman to be the guy who wants to sneak out the back door while Marshall stirs up a hornet's nest. Naturally, Friedman eventually comes around and decides to help Marshall with the case, which involves a black chauffeur named Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), who is accused of raping a white woman, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson), and then tossing her off a bridge into a stream.
Marshall quickly sees the unlikeliness of the scenario - Strubing said that she was thrown into the calm-watered side of the bridge - as opposed to the rocky other side that would have guaranteed her death - and her accusations that Spell threw rocks at her once she was in the water is quickly dispelled by the fact that the only rocks on the bridge are mere pebbles.
James Cromwell pops up in a cameo as the obviously prejudiced judge who gives favor to the snotty prosecutor (Dan Stevens), who is clearly his buddy from the country club - that is, until he doesn't. The courtroom scenes involving the changes of heart among the white jurors and judge are among the film's weaker sequences. Yes, I'm aware that the film is based on an actual court case and the outcome remains the same. But the way this is communicated in the film wasn't that convincing.
While "Marshall" may not be a civil rights drama on the level of "Selma," which focused less on an individual than a movement, and Spike Lee's remarkable "Malcolm X," it's an entertaining courtroom drama that occasionally feels like a thriller. It doesn't try to create a mythos around Marshall, but rather portray him as one of the few voices of sanity and competent professionals in an engrossing case in which the real-life Marshall just happened to play a role. In other words, I recommend the film, which is overall a well made true story that doesn't feel too much like a musty biopic.