So, here I am. January is nearly over. The Oscar nominations have already been announced. 2018 is well under way and yet, I still have 158 films on the DVR that I need to watch and a few 2017 releases that I still need to catch up on. At this point, I’ve accepted that I’ll probably never truly be “caught up” when it comes to watching movies. But, that’s okay. I love movies too much to ever regret having an excuse to watch more.
On Wednesday night, I watched Marshall, which came out last October. A film about the early life of civil rights activist and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, Marshall seemed like a movie that would perfectly capitalize on the current political atmosphere. The film starred Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman and a lot of people — including me — assumed that the excitement over Boseman as Black Panther would also translate into excitement over a chance to see him in this film. (For that matter, Josh Gad has also recently been proving himself to be a far better actor than I originally believed him to be. Never again will I refer to Gad as being the poor man’s Jonah Hill.) The film’s reviews were respectable. Quite a few sites, including this one, listed Marshall as being a potential Oscar nominee.
And yet, when the movie was released, it fell flat at the box office. On the week of its release, it finished in 11th place. I guess there’s a lot of reasons for that. Personally, I think it would have done better if the film had been released in November or December. In a month that is traditionally dominated by horror movies and the last gasps of a few summer blockbusters, Marshall seemed somewhat out-of-place. Perhaps Marshall would have stood a better chance if it had been given a limited release in December, with a big awards push for Chadwick Boseman. Who knows? As it is, it ended up losing money and it only received one Oscar nomination, for best original song.
Having now watched Marshall, I can say it’s a good movie, though perhaps never quite as good as you want it to be. It takes place in 1940. After making a name for himself defending blacks in the South, attorney Thurgood Marshall travels to Connecticut to defend a black chauffeur (Sterling K. Brown) who has been accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson). It soon becomes obvious that Northern justice is just as corrupted by bigotry as Southern justice. A racist judge (James Cromwell) rules that Marshall will not be allowed to even speak in court. Marshall ends up advising the chauffeur’s attorney, an insurance lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad). All of Sam’s friends expect him to just make a deal with the smug prosecutor (Dan Stevens) and move on. However, Sam believe his client to be not guilty and, with Marshall’s help, is determined to win an acquittal.
Director Reginald Hudlin never seems to be quite what type of movie he’s trying to make. Sometimes, the film feels like a reverent biopic. Other time, it’s an old-fashioned courtroom drama, complete with different flashbacks depending on who is doing the testifying. And then other times, Marshall is an extremely stylish film that almost turns Thurgood Marshall into a comic book super hero. Fortunately, Chadwick Boseman is such a talented and charismatic actor that he holds all of the disparate elements of the film together. Not only does Boseman bring intelligence and righteous anger to the role, he also brings a sense of fun. As played by Boseman, Marshall isn’t just outsmarting a prejudiced system and putting racists in their place. He’s also having a good time while he’s doing it. Boseman is a lot of fun to watch and he gets good support from Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown.
Marshall may not be a perfect film but Chadwick Boseman is always watchable. The excitement over Black Panther has proven that Boseman is a star but Marshall shows that he’s a pretty good actor as well.