This biopic about Thurgood Marshall as a young civil rights
attorney suffers from cliché and stereotyping, but carries a clear
narrative and features several strong performances, most notably the lead
actor, Chadwick Boseman (yes, the one who played both James Brown and
It's the 1950's, and America is still blatantly racist.
Blacks are routinely denied equal opportunity, discriminated
against in admission to public institutions, and randomly harrassed by
white supremacists, with little, if any, consequence.
Thurgood Marshall (Boseman) is the lawyer for the NAACP who travels
to different communities to assist in legal representation, in cases which
appear to feature clear racial bias.
In this particular case, a Connecticut society woman, Eleanor
Strubing (Kate Hudson), accuses her chauffeur, Joseph Spell (Sterling K.
Brown), of raping her and throwing her in the reservoir, then driving
away. When Mr. Marshall
arrives, he questions Mr. Spell very carefully, wanting to know if he is
innocent of the crime, and when he claims he is, Mr. Marshall takes the
case. Except nothing is as
simple as it appears.
For starters, Mr. Marshall is not licensed to practice in that
State, so he has to team up with a local attorney, but not surprisingly,
no one is enthused about partnering with him.
Finally, a Jewish civil attorney named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) is
recruited, and assured that all he would have to is introduce Mr. Marshall
to the Court, and then he could take his leave.
But No. The Judge
(James Cromwell) insists that though Mr. Marshall can be present at the
defense table, only Mr. Friedman may address the court.
So thus begins an awkward apprenticeship.
Friedman has never tried a criminal case in his life.
Marshall insists on taking the lead in every decision from jurors
selected to when to object, and sometimes they don't agree on every
strategy. But Friedman turns
out to be as quick a pupil as Marshall is an adept teacher.
And when the details of the case turn out to be not quite what they
first appeared, Friedman and Marshall are going to need all their skills
against a formidable (but arrogant) prosecuting attorney, Lorin Willis
Though hopefully we've come a long way since racial attitudes in
those days, it's still uncomfortable witnessing the active random
persecution by almost all the white characters in the film. (Mr. Friedman
is shown enduring his beratings and beatings because of his Hebrew
heritage.) But it's also
inspiring to see how the country stumbled its way to a set of Supreme
Court precedents that truly seek to treat everybody as equal under the
law, even if, arguably, that's not the way the “Founding Fathers”
actually envisioned things.
The courtroom drama is well-played, and made particularly memorable
by the constant shading of light and darkness by veteran television
Director Reginald Hudlin. The
good guys win, and justice prevails. But
of course the societal struggle against racial discrimination is far from