Released: 20th October 2017
Directed By: Reginald Hudlin
Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad
Reviewed By: Van Connor
In Cold Blood meets Shaft is the best way to describe this swaggering period piece thriller, in which Chadwick Boseman plays a young Thurgood Marshall in the true story of his defence of the wrongfully accused, years before his time on the US Supreme Court. If you’re keeping score, that makes this the third biopic the Black Panther star has led in as little as four years, and – whilst this is by no means on par with the bonkers fun of James Brown chronicle, Get On Up – it’s a more than solid use of his undeniable charisma.
The story sees Marshall as a lawyer for the NAACP in 1940s New York, despatched to small-town USA to defend Joseph Spell (The People vs OJ Simpson breakout Sterling K. Brown) – an African-American man accused of the rape and attempted murder of socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). Forced to gain local credibility in a partnership with a meek insurance lawyer (Josh Gad), it doesn’t take Marshall long to deduce that his client is indeed innocent of the charges against him, but with a racist judge and am ambitious and connected opposing counsel standing in his way, it soon proves the toughest challenge of his career.
Hats off to relatively unknown screenwriters Michael and Jacob Koskoff for their efforts with Marshall, a solidly engaging story that takes on the early life of an American icon and mines a bonafide suspenseful thriller from it. Director Reginald Hudlin, too, proves more than up to the job at hand – bringing stylistic nerve to a somewhat buttoned-down setting and building the perfect platform for Boseman and his terrific supporting cast to really show us what they’ve got, and keep you perched on the edge of your seat until they’re done.
Gad continues to be one of the more under appreciated performers around – his efforts here standing in wonderful contrast to his ever-more overpowering comedic work elsewhere, while James Cromwell and Dan Stevens take on what – to them – are relatively stock roles as the discriminant judge and sleazy attorney respectively. It’s Brown, though, who truly impresses – his quivering turn as Spell the only thing close to Boseman’s undeniable gravitas – and clearly just the latest chapter of an impressive recent run that looks set to deliver even greater things.
Sure, Thurgood Marshall may be something of an unknown commodity to a mainstream British audience, but that matters very little as regards a sharp old-school legal thriller as rooted in classic American cinema as Marshall. Compelling, engaging, terrifically performed, and admirably executed, Marshall commands your attention, and absolutely deserves it.