Sunday, October 15, 2017

Marshall: Showdown in the Courtroom


Who do you call to the defense of a black chauffeur accused of raping wealthy white woman in conservative Connecticut? The NAACP promptly sends out Thurgood Marshall.

         Yes, the Thurgood Marshall, an ambitious and dedicated young attorney, not yet the first African-American Supreme Court Justice. He’s played by Chadwick Boseman (Jackie Robinson in “42”). Boseman’s acting is good and will certainly earn him an academy award nomination. He manages to present the young Marshall as smart, ambitious, and even a bit cocky. Let’s not forget the swagger, either, which provided some heart and humor to this famous lawyer.
         The movie is a tense courtroom drama (Connecticut v. Joseph Spell) rather than a cradle to grave biopic. This is not the future man in robes but a real person who smoked and drank, loved and lost.
         Remember, this was 1940. Marshall had more than a decade of experience to earn before Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students to be unconstitutional.
         There are several twists in the story. First, in order to try the case in a state where he’s not admitted to practice law, the NAACP hires Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) an insurance attorney who has never litigated a criminal case. He doesn’t even want the case fearing that defending a black man might ruin his legal career. Marshall and Friedman face not only prejudice based on color, but Jews are not exactly allowed in the country clubs, either. The two, Boseman and Gad, make a fine combination – sparring and challenging each other, but there’s also respect. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gad is nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
         To further complicate matters the judge (James Cromwell) orders Marshall not to speak in the courtroom while allowing him to sit at the defense table. That means Marshall must be the coach, the “court whisperer.” It’s hard for both attorneys, but they’re relentless.
         What’s Twist #2? While we’re hoping things will go Marshall’s way, new evidence is introduced. Spoiler Alert! Just kidding, I’m not telling.
         A final note, the music is outstanding. Never intrusive and even inspiring. As is this story.

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