reflection

While Chadwick Boseman's performance is wonderful, poor casting and writing have doomed this film to mediocrity. The cinematography fails to capture the essence of a tumultuous period in our nation's history.
Acting
Writing
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Review ‘Marshall’ : Subpar Writing And Performances Derail This Biopic

Marshall is held back by weak casting choices and a storyline which lacks the appropriate focus.

Summary

Marshall focuses on the work of Thurgood Marshall (played by Chadwick Boseman), and what he did for the NAACP in 1940. This film primarily recounts the case of Joseph Spell (Sterling K Brown), an  African American man who faced charges of raping a wealthy young housewife (played by Kate Hudson). The NAACP attempts to give Mr. Marshall this case, but a judge blocks his out of state appointment. Left with no other options, he enlists the help of Sam Friedman (Josh Gad) to serve as Spell’s attorney.

Marshall

What Worked

The casting of Boseman in the title role was the right decision. He brought a level of intensity audiences most recently saw in 42 and Step on Up. Why wasn’t he the focus of the film? Someone with his acting ability and raw talent needed to be the focus of the film.  Marshall should have been his film, but he ends up being overshadowed by his co-star.

What Didn’t Work

Jacob and Micheal Koskoff attempted to craft a narrative that comes off as more like a Lifetime movie than a serious film about civil rights. More time was spent laying the groundwork for this odd-couple relationship between Friedman and Marshall rather than their impactful work.

The casting of Gad as Sam Friedman was a terrible decision. His portrayal was stiff and at times a little too pretentious. Nothing out of his mouth seemed to be authentic. It did seem by just casting him, Boseman was forced to share the spotlight. Did the producers of the film not realize this was a film focused on the early days of one the most influential legal minds of our generation?

Why did Koskoff decide the focus of this film needed to be on the Spell case? Marshall’s career spans decades of cases where he has argued against profound examples of racism both on an interpersonal level and institutional one. He was the lawyer who against all the odds, successfully argued Brown v Board of Education which forever changed our educational system. The case of Joseph Spell doesn’t even crack the top ten list of legal victories in Mr. Marshall’s career.

Cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel utilized quick cuts when the camera focused on the number of people outside the courthouse. While this technique made each shot look cleaner, it gave Marshall a lack of authenticity. He should have spent at least a few seconds on these groups of people, who weren’t there to cheer on Spell. Why would you cut away from one of the more compelling elements of this story? Racism is at the heart of this case.

Overall

Marshall could have easily been one of the best of films of 2017. However, the writing teams lack of a focus took this story in an odd direction. Instead of trying to tell the tale of two men (Marshall and Friedman), the focus should have been primarily on the former justice of the Supreme Court and his impactful work. What could have been fantastic, is much more of a paint by numbers approach which leaves much to be desired.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.

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While Chadwick Boseman's performance is wonderful, poor casting and writing have doomed this film to mediocrity. The cinematography fails to capture the essence of a tumultuous period in our nation's history. Review 'Marshall' : Subpar Writing And Performances Derail This Biopic