Despite being massively influential, Thurgood Marshall may not always come to mind as quickly as Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X when discussing the leaders of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
Director Reginald Hudlin (“House Party,” “Boomerang”) wants to change that.
With his latest film, “Marshall,” Hudlin gives viewers the chance to follow the legendary lawyer as he fights one of his most important cases from behind the scenes. Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) travels to Connecticut to defend a black man, Joseph Spell (Sterling Brown), who’s been accused of raping a white woman, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). Before the trial begins, the judge rules that Marshall isn’t allowed to speak in the courtroom. He demands that an inexperienced white lawyer, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), lead Spell’s defense.
The judge’s discrimination toward Marshall only emphasizes Marshall’s steadfast ability to thrive despite societal obstacles. He decides to mentor a nervous Friedman and build the most effective defense for their client from behind the scenes.
The PHOENIX sat down with Hudlin to talk about his new film. To Hudlin, Thurgood Marshall is almost superhuman, a civil rights hero in every sense.
“He had to go into these courtrooms with people who didn’t see him as fully human and get them to change their minds,” Hudlin said.
The director knew he would need a talented and charismatic lead to bring Marshall to life, so he turned to Chadwick Boseman. Having played Jackie Robinson in “42” (2013) and James Brown in “Get On Up” (2014), Boseman’s acting preparation gives him an edge when taking difficult roles, according to Hudlin.
“He really goes out of his way to understand the person he’s playing and manifest it both philosophically and physically,” Hudlin said.
Boseman portrays Marshall as a brilliant lawyer and a young father. Despite the heavy themes “Marshall” tackles, Hudlin wanted the biopic to be entertaining above anything else.
“I wanted people to go, ‘This is a cool legal thriller that just happens to feature the greatest lawyer in American history,’” Hudlin said. “If you don’t entertain, the whole thing fails.”
“Marshall” is unique in its ability to dip into numerous genres with ease, including legal thriller, mystery and even “buddy cop.” The relationship between Marshall and Friedman deepens over the course of the film, and Boseman and Gad play off each other perfectly. Marshall and Friedman’s friendship shows how two people from completely different upbringings and circumstances can find common ground and bond over their similarities.
“They’re together for very different reasons,” Hudlin said, “but they bond because they’re ultimately both committed to the truth.”
Much of the film is dependent on the two men’s relationship, and Boseman and Gad’s chemistry is strong enough to keep audiences invested.
The film’s weakest points lie in its script, which contains some awkward dialogue and some flat emotional execution. Hudlin and company do their best to translate these moments to screen, and the flaws are ultimately so minor that they don’t take away from the whole piece.
The plot of “Marshall” is structured more intelligently than many other conventional films in the genre. Details are held from the audience during the case, forcing viewers to doubt Spell’s testimony and further value the real truth when it’s revealed.
“Marshall” is a film worth seeing about a man worth remembering. It kicked off the Chicago International Film Festival Oct. 12 and is now playing in theaters across the country.