Movie Review: Marshall

This image released by Open Road Films shows, from left, Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in a scene from "Marshall." (Barry Wetcher/Open Road Films via AP)

This image released by Open Road Films shows, from left, Josh Gad, Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Brown in a scene from "Marshall." (Barry Wetcher/Open Road Films via AP)

Thurgood Marshall is an immensely important figure in the American Civil Rights movement, and the film Marshall does a solid job of depicting one of the more interesting episodes of his career early on.

In 1940, Joseph Spell, an African American man working in Connecticut, was accused of raping his white mistress and throwing her into a river. He maintained his innocence and Thurgood Marshall, played by Chadwick Boseman, was dispatched from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to defend him in court. Paired with an insurance lawyer from Connecticut named Sam Friedman, the two have to work together to secure SPell’s freedom. In an engaging plot twist, Marshall is not allowed to speak in court due to not being a registered lawyer in the state of Connecticut and thus must dictate all of his legal actions through Friedman. Josh Gad turns in an excellent performance as Friedman, and both he and Boseman’s characters bond over having to deal with racist slurs due to their heritage.

Sterling K. Brown plays Joseph Spell, fresh off an Emmy win for best actor in “This is Us.” He turns in an emotionally charged performance as a man dealing with the possibility of being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. His best moment comes when he is called to the witness stand and cross-examined by both legal parties. His tearful testimony and Gad’s closing argument are what eventually sway the jury to a not-guilty verdict.

Other strong performances come from Dan Stevens who plays the opposing lawyer representing the State of Connecticut,  Lorin Willis. Stevens is best known from his role as Matthew Crawley in “Downton Abbey”. He captures Willis’ superior attitude well and delivers his final racist insults towards Friedman with anger. Kate Hudson does a commendable job as Eleanor Strubing, the woman accusing Spell of rape and attempted murder. She depicts an incredibly tragic character, one who has to deal with an abusive husband in an unfamiliar town.

There are a few negative parts of the movie, however. There is little development between Marshall and his wife; she only appears in a few scenes. Both Friedman and Marshall have to deal with great personal strife during the trial as well. Marshall’s wife has a miscarriage during her pregnancy, but you never quite see the impact it has on the couple outside of one emotionally charged and tearful phone call. Friedman and his wife have to deal with the news that some of their Jewish family members still in Europe have been captured by Nazi forces, but again their discussion about it lasts for but a few brief seconds.

All in all, Marshall does a good job as a classic legal drama that focuses on other important members of the case outside of the titular character. It is an interesting and engaging movie that highlights one of the most important figures in American legal history. Its final end credits give the viewers a conclusion to each character and provides the information that Marshall would be eventually sworn in as the first African American Justice of the Supreme Court in 1967. Both riveting and informative, Marshall is highly recommended.


Seamus McKeever is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at seamus.mckeever@uconn.edu.