Marshall is a 2017 American biographical legal comedy-drama film directed by Reginald Hudlin and written by Michael and Jacob Koskoff. It stars Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court Justice, and focuses on one of the first cases of his career, the State of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. It also stars Josh Gad, Kate Hudson, Dan Stevens, Sterling K. Brown, and James Cromwell.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Reginald Hudlin|
|Music by||Marcus Miller|
|Cinematography||Newton Thomas Sigel|
|Edited by||Tom McArdle|
|Distributed by||Open Road Films|
|Box office||$10.1 million|
Principal photography began in Los Angeles in mid-December 2015. The film premiered at Howard University on September 20, 2017, and was released in the United States by Open Road Films on October 13, 2017. It received positive reviews from critics but grossed just $10 million against a $12 million budget. At the 90th Academy Awards, it received a nomination for Best Original Song for "Stand Up for Something".
In 1940, Thurgood Marshall is an NAACP lawyer traveling the country defending people of color who are wrongly accused of crimes because of racial prejudice. Upon his return to his New York office, he is sent to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to defend Joseph Spell, a chauffeur accused of rape by his white employer, Eleanor Strubing, in a case that has gripped the newspapers. In Bridgeport, insurance lawyer Sam Friedman is assigned by his brother to get Marshall admitted to the local bar, against his will. At the hearing, Judge Foster, a friend of the father of prosecutor Lorin Willis, agrees to admit Marshall, but forbids Marshall from speaking during the trial, forcing Friedman to be Spell's lead counsel. Marshall must guide Friedman through notes, such as when he advises Friedman to allow a woman of Southern white descent into the jury because of her assertive and questioning personality.
Spell swears to Marshall that he never had any sexual contact with Strubing and leads the lawyers to a patrolman who stopped Spell that night while he was driving Strubing's car. Marshall and Friedman investigate Strubing's story that Spell tied her up in the back seat of her car after raping her and drove to a bridge to throw her over. They wonder why Spell appeared to throw her over the calm side instead of the side with rapids. Spell is initially interested in a plea bargain offered by Willis, but Marshall talks him out of it. Later on at trial, though, a doctor testifies to finding pieces of skin underneath Strubing's fingernails, as well as bruises. Strubing herself testifies that she was tied in the back seat when the patrolman pulled Spell over. With this information, Marshall and Friedman confront Spell, who admits that he was lying about not having sexual contact with Strubing.
At trial, Spell testifies that Strubing's husband inflicted the bruises through repeated acts of spousal abuse. That night, he went to see Strubing for an advance on his salary, finding a distraught Strubing wanting to have sex with him. Spell consents, and the two have several sexual encounters that night. Then Strubing panics about being found out and being pregnant. Spell tries to drive her to a doctor, but Strubing has to hide in the back seat when the patrolman questions him. A hysterical Strubing forces Spell to stop by a bridge where she runs out and tries to kill herself. When Spell tries to stop her, she scratches him and jumps off the bridge. But she survives and flags down a motorist making up a desperate story about rape. When Willis asks why Spell didn't tell the truth to begin with, Spell talks about how black men get tortured and lynched in his native Louisiana for having sex with white women. Over Willis's objections, Judge Foster allows Spell's statement to stand.
Before the verdict, Marshall has to leave for a case in Mississippi. A desperate Willis offers Spell a much lighter plea bargain, but Spell feels emboldened enough to turn it down. The night before Marshall leaves, he and Friedman prepare the closing statement that Friedman then delivers on his own. The Southern white woman has now become the jury forewoman, and she ultimately delivers a "not guilty" verdict. Friedman happily breaks the news over the phone to Marshall, who moves on to his next case. Closing credits note that Friedman went on to work in many civil rights cases, while Marshall himself has an illustrious career as the American Civil Rights Movement's principal legal strategist and the first African American Justice to the Supreme Court of the United States.
- Chadwick Boseman as Thurgood Marshall, the future first African American Supreme Court Justice.
- Josh Gad as Sam Friedman, an insurance lawyer who teams with Marshall.
- Kate Hudson as Eleanor Strubing
- Dan Stevens as Lorin Willis
- James Cromwell as Judge Foster
- Sterling K. Brown as Joseph Spell, the man accused of rape and attempted murder who Marshall defends in court.
- Keesha Sharp as Vivien "Buster" Burey, Thurgood's wife
- John Magaro as Irwin Friedman
- Roger Guenveur Smith as Walter Francis White
- Ahna O'Reilly as Mrs. Richmond
- Jeremy Bobb as John Strubing
- Derrick Baskin as Tad Lancaster
- Jeffrey DeMunn as Dr. Sayer
- Andra Day as Minton's Singer
- Sophia Bush as Jennifer
- Jussie Smollett as Langston Hughes
- Rozonda 'Chilli' Thomas as Zora Neale Hurston
- Barrett Doss as Bertha Lancaster
- Zanete Shadwick as Irene Lancaster
- Brendan Burke as Captain Burke
- Marina Squerciati as Stella Friedman
Principal photography began in Los Angeles in mid-December 2015, before moving to Buffalo in early 2016, including shoots at Buffalo City Hall, the Buffalo Central Terminal, Daemen College, Orchard Park and Niagara Falls. Reginald Hudlin directed the film from Michael Koskoff and his son Jacob Koskoff's script. Chinese company Super Hero Films financed the film, which was produced by Paula Wagner through her Chestnut Ridge Productions, along with Hudlin, Jonathan Sanger.
In the United States and Canada, Marshall was released alongside Happy Death Day, The Foreigner and Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, and was expected to gross $3–4 million from 821 theaters in its opening weekend. It ended up making $3 million, finishing 11th at the box office.
On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based on 143 reviews, with an average rating of 6.64/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Marshall takes an illuminating, well-acted look at its real-life subject's early career that also delivers as an entertainingly old-fashioned courtroom drama." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score 66 out of 100, based on reviews from 34 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers praised Boseman's performance, giving the film 3 stars out of 4 and saying, "Charged by Boseman's dramatic lightning, Marshall gives us an electrifying glimpse of a great man in the making." Peter DeBruge of Variety magazine called the film "a compelling courtroom drama".
"Stand Up for Something" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Song, and the Satellite Award for Best Original Song; it won the latter prize, while losing the first two to "Remember Me" from Coco.
Film critic Roger Friedman, nephew of Sam Friedman, questioned the authenticity of Friedman's portrayal in the film: "Almost not a word of my great uncle's depiction in the movie is accurate." He said that Sam Friedman was not an inexperienced lawyer and was not attacked in the streets.
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