I thought it might have been an R-rating. I might have some faith in the MPAA here. The content is pretty intense. Involving a rape case might instantly raise some flags, but the beat to beat content isn't anything that should turn some audiences away. I will say that if students want a good view into the philosophy of Thurgood Marshall, it might help if they are on the mature side. You know how To Kill a Mockingbird gets into deep stuff? Same deal here. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Reginald Hudlin
I really hope that I don't make this the second part of my Black Panther review. That's not fair to this movie, but there is a strong connection so I can't ignore it. See, I really got into the Black Panther comic books when Reginald Hudlin was writing them. Seeing Chadwick Boseman in a role other than T'Challa is odd for me, so I'm just going to keep making that mental connection. I apologize if this review is dominated with my obsession with comic books because I do love me some comic books.
I read an article about Black Panther (I told you I was going to do this!). One of the reasons that it did so well, according to some, was that is showed people of color not in a place of subjugation or defined by oppression. They were kings and uncolonized. The power dynamic was as it should be, reflective of actual accomplishment. People of color often aren't used to finding those roles in film. With so many connections between both movies, Marshall might be a reminder of the old guard. But the old guard still is important. I find it kind of amazing that this movie wasn't nominated for an Academy Award. On a completely superficial level, this does seem like prime Oscar-bait. But it is kind of amazing that we haven't had too much of Thurgood Marshall in film. His story is way more interesting than other civil rights story. (That's right. I'm ranking them because I'm a bad person.) In many of the civil rights stories, the character starts off as the oppressed. Through the events of the story, the protagonist finds his or her voice and defies the oppressor. The dynamic is a little different in Marshall. Thurgood Marshall was already a celebrated lawyer, despite the political climate of the era. On top of that, he was a legal powerhouse, winning case after case, aware of his significance to history. I really like that because it puts a slant on the story we had already seen. It becomes a tale of endurance, like Selma. The movement is not started, but fights for strength. This is where the tale becomes somewhat more interesting. I know that there probably was a draft where the movie focused on Marshall's many cases. It might have showed him going from town to town and focusing on the many instances of hardship that Marshall had to endure simply for being black. But Marshall decides to focus on a case where Marshall is silenced. This dynamic inverts the civil rights biopic. Rather than going from a place of weakness to a place of strength, Thurgood Marshall goes from being unstoppable to being muted. He is not allowed to speak in court and that is interesting. Unfortunately, it also creates a dynamic that is a little problematic.
The movie, like The Help and The Blind Side, touches on the kindness of white people. There are evil white people and good white people and thank God that there are good white people. It lets White America a little off the hook by showing how benevolent some people are. It's not as flagrant as other films and I do appreciate that Sam is Jewish. Sam being complex also gives the movie a bit of a boost, but I can't help to say that this movie gives people a bit of a pass for their bad behavior. I am also surprised that Dan Stevens plays such an evil lawyer. We have all seen the legal films where the bad guy lawyer is unlikable, but is only doing his job. In this case, Hudlin allows Stevens to become truly despicable, genuinely taking it beyond the professional level and into a realm where he wants to see Joseph get the electric chair. He also piles on that need for success that borders on mania and I don't think that this is the worst choice. Yeah, it makes Dan Stevens a bit of an archvillain, but I'm getting kind of tired of the sympathetic prosecutor in this case. I'm about to cross a philosophical idea that I haven't fully fleshed out yet, so I apologize if this seems a bit undercooked. I want these kinds of stories to be told, but because so many real life events seemed to have parallels with each other, especially during the civil rights movement, I don't know if things can be considered tropes. The alleged rape victim, Mrs. Strubing --played by Kate Hudson --was meant to be a mystery to us. One of the major questions raised by one of the films characters is "Why would she lie?" Because this narrative has been told before, we all know exactly why she lied. One of the things that makes a legal drama interesting is the mystery of the whole situation. There really wasn't a mystery because this has happened many times in film. But again, this is based on a case in history. I also don't know if Kate Hudson was the best person to pick for this. (My philosophical dark night has ended. Now I'm just going to gossip about celebrities.) I feel like this part wasn't fleshed out enough for her. The odd thing is that she is the victim of a crime, but at no point did I really feel bad for her. Partially, this comes from her performance. But that's not all her fault. Her screen time is pretty minimal because it genuinely is not her story. So she has to make herself mildly sympathetic while being somewhat despicable. Instead, she just comes in as almost a stranger to the film. She is an outside force that doesn't exist in the world of Thurgood Marshall and Sam.
There is one moment that I kind of want to gripe about. It is such an interesting idea to have, but it has a really self-aware feel to it. There's a moment in the movie where Thurgood Marshall has dinner with Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. C'mon. I get it. They ran in the same circles. I always find history interesting when famous geniuses all just hung out, but this scene winked at the camera so hard that it pulled me out of the movie. But the rest of the movie was fairly engrossing. I even have to give points to Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad. Boseman, I didn't realize, has a cadence. I thought that was just T'Challa for me. (I told you I couldn't get past this.) He has a very specific way of speaking that I thought was just part of his other character. He has this aura of being confident while speaking softly that is pretty cool. The only concern I have is that I'm sure that he's going to do it in other movies and that might distance me from the believability of his characters. Josh Gad is sometimes a little hard to watch. I don't often take Josh Gad that seriously. I like him as a human being, but I really want him to just take that extra step. He has some absolutely wonderful moments of reality in the movie and I applaud him for doing drama. He's not bad at it at all, but there are choices that I want him to make that might be a little bit more gutsy than what I saw here. Perhaps Sam Friedman wasn't the guy for Josh Gad, but I think that Sam might have gone just a little bit deeper. Much of Sam is a reaction to stimulus, but is rarely a driving force outside of the courtroom. I think that's why I like Gad's courtroom scenes better than anything else. He felt like he was making risky decisions compared to responding to something uncomfortable that happened to him. Regardless, both actors are the right people for the role and I liked them overall.
I forgot to mention that I watched this for the song. I'm so close to seeing everything. I can't get a hold of All the Money in the World and three of the foreign films before Sunday, but I did manage to get Marshall in on time. Oddly, it's in for the original song category and I think that the film is more important than the song itself. It's good, but it is also just a credits song that is repetitive and on the nose. The movie is pretty good. It is a feel good movie and I don't mind that from time to time. But I need to watch this with fresh eyes and I don't know where I can get me a pair at this late hour.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.