Will walk a mile to see Chadwick Boseman act in anything including reading from the phone book if that’s his choice. After his stunning performances as James Brown in “Get On Up” and as Jackie Robinson in “42” what else?
Here he is as a young Thurgood Marshall in “Marshall,” and once again he captures essence and detail in equal measure. Remember that line, “the devil’s in the details?” Well, this is one actor who knows that detailing creates the magic. A look, a thought that changes one’s eyes even as the talk is about something else, a gesture.. he knows how to keep the life of the character in process at all times. Considering Thurgood Marshall’s enormous intelligence, his “Tasmanian devil” work load, running around the country defending wrongly accused black people before racist judges, prosecutors, police and rabid citizens, that’s a tall order for the actor. He manages just fine. Boseman is an intelligent actor and he’s passionate. There’s a scene in the film when Marshall finds out by phone that his wife has lost their baby. This call comes during the trial that is at the center of the film. Boseman brings it all home- heart, mind, mission.
I was thinking how could this man (Marshall) carry such a heavy load for so many years! How did he do that and don’t we need him now!! The film takes place during the WWII years when Northern racism was still taking a sort of “Hollywood-ized” back seat to the more virulent southern version. There were fewer signs (Whites Only) but the same actions, the same fears, the same hatred, the same obscene justice system. Boseman internalizes it all and balances it all like a brilliant dancer. And, he has a few smiles and laughs too: wry, silly, sexy, sly… no limits on this actor’s ability to pull you in.
The actor James Cromwell plays a judge.. well done as always. James was in the Free Southern Theatre with me during the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Kate Hudson is the woman accusing the black man of rape. She’s excellent. Not the frail Southern belle type. More the “what’s in this marriage for me” type. Sterling K. Brown is the man accused of raping her. He too is terrific. There was a time in the not too distant past when the sex scene between these two would’ve had me throwing my popcorn at the screen. I wanted this scene. I want to take the power away from these relationships on screen. Screen is big. Imagery is powerful. Show it til eyes filled with hatred relax. Complex reactions? Yes. As well they should be considering the history.
Josh Gad plays Connecticut Attorney Sam Friedman, the lawyer Marshall must work “under” because the judge will not allow Marshall to try the case in court. And the interplay between Boseman and Gad is grating and also wonderfully sweet and funny. These stories need release valves sometimes. It’s not like we’re walking into films without carrying the heavy load of what’s happening right now in our daily lives. My teeth are gnashing constantly as the crazed news keeps coming. I was only too happy to have a few lighter moments in this film. Thank you, screen writers Jacob & Michael Koskoff.
I’m sure there were 100’s of cases the writers might have built their screenplay around. They chose one of the thorniest, most fraught, most thunderous, most weighty themes imaginable and I’m so glad they did: white woman/black man/time for a lynching. That black men have been wrongly accused of raping white women for hundreds of years – and paid for the presumed violence with their lives – should be common knowledge by now. To some, it’s a bogeyman that will never die. It’s about fear, curiosity, natural human attraction, jealousy, and on and on. It’s powerful because white men made it so. To see the “mechanics” of one such situation on screen – fully transparent – is redeeming. We know the truth.
Marcus Miller created the soundtrack for “Marshall” and there is a brief but well done appearance by Andra Day. Perfection!
And finally to the director Reginald Hudlin: great going! Film looks good, production values are fine – sets, wonderful period cars, furnishing, costumes, hair-do’s, etc.. and praise the Lord, historical context for black literary folks – Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes in a rich little scene in a club with Marshall. Precious.