While Marshall is an entertaining legal drama, it does a poor job developing its characters, especially the titular Thurgood Marshall.
Before Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) became the first Black Supreme Court Justice he was a lawyer for the NAACP. He would travel to various towns to defend cases for innocent people who were accused solely based on race. One of these cases brings him to defend Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) who is accused of the rape and attempted murder of Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). However, based on the Judge’s decision, Marshall must let Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), an insurance lawyer, argue the case.
Marshall is incredibly entertaining and exciting, but the specific story that it tells does not seem to be the strongest to showcase Thurgood Marshall. This seems like a really strange choice to choose a case in which Marshall is not even allowed to argue. He is forced to sit silently in court while Friedman takes the lead.
Boseman has a fantastic performance, capturing the screen with every line that he speaks. However, Marshall does not feel like a fully developed character. He has some forced touches of humanity, in scenes regarding his wife, as a replacement for an actual character arc. Otherwise his character is only notable for numerous inspiring speeches and the occasional sarcastic comment.
The main emotional arc is given to Gad as Friedman. This is actually a career turning role proving that Gad can handle a dramatic role. He convincingly goes from a nervous insurance lawyer to a commanding criminal lawyer.
Marshall feels a bit like a legal Mary Poppins, travelling to this town to make Friedman a better lawyer, having no personal growth in the experience, then moving on to the next town. For a movie titled Marshall, it is disappointing that we do not get to learn more about this significant figure. The movie does the best with what it has, but it seems like a poor case about which to make a movie.
All around the performances are incredible and make the movie entertaining. The actors all, however, deserve much more than they are given. Particularly, it is disappointing to see that Sterling K. Brown, Kate Hudson, and Dan Stevens have very little to do in the movie. While they feel wasted in minor parts, their presence is much appreciated.
Marshall has a great energy which allows the pacing to generally move rather quickly. A major aid to the pacing is the score by Marcus Miller. Most of the score is upbeat jazz, and while it would be great to listen to on its own, it feels too obtrusive in the movie. It is very jarring many times when the music begins, and the music does not always fit the tone of the scene. It allows the movie to move at a nice rhythm but it comes at a cost.
At times, the dialogue has a similarly jarring quality as the music. As a courtroom film, characters have a penchant to the occasional dramatic declaration. Unfortunately, this happens more than what would be appropriate, in and out of the court, and quickly these lines begin to feel obnoxious.
Despite being Oscar-bait, Marshall will most likely be completely passed over during awards season, but it is still an entertaining experience.