by Tony Medley
Runtime 118 minutes.
Chadwick Boseman, who
did such a marvelous job portraying Jackie Robinson in
42 (2013), now takes on Justice
Thurgood Marshall, also portraying him as a young man rather than the
crusty, unsmiling Supreme Court Justice that is in most of our memories,
at least mine.
This is the tale of a
1940 case in which Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur
with a checkered past, was accused of raping his employer, white
socialite Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson). The case of Connecticut v.
Spell charged him with sexual assault and attempted murder.
Marshall was a young
attorney for the NAACP who did most of his work in the South. This case
brought him into the upper class white environs of Connecticut, where
the case had caused a newspaper frenzy.
The film shows
incredible bias by the judge, Colin Foster (James Cromwell), who
reluctantly allows Marshall to be present during the trial, but forbids
him from speaking. I can find no authority for this. From the meager
evidence Iíve been able to find about the trial Marshall voluntarily
chose to have the lead counsel be Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad).
The film shows
Friedman as being a young attorney with no experience in criminal cases
who was forced into participating in the case against his wishes.
Contrary to this Hollywood Twist, Friedman had practiced law with his
brother, Irwin, since the 1920s. He was no nervous novice, although he
did have no experience in criminal matters.
Directed by Reginald
Hudlin, itís from a script by Michael Koskoff, an attorney who knew
about the case and thought it should be a movie, and Jacob Koskoff. It
even has an original song, ďStand Up for Something,Ē by Diane Warren and
Cromwell gives a good
performance as the biased, unfair judge, but I question the validity of
this portrayal. It could just be another Hollywood Twist to add unneeded
tension to an already good story. While Boseman gives a fine
performance, the person who really stands out is Gad, even if his
portrayal of Friedman is probably less than accurate.
Even though this is
pretty much like what one sees on the TV series Law and Order,
and is as entertaining, I shrink from accepting Hollywood versions of
factual events, knowing that todayís filmmakers lean over backwards to
insert every bit of bias into their films that they can get away with.
From what little Iíve been able to discover about the case though,
despite the discrepancies mentioned herein, the story is pretty much in
line with the facts that Iíve been able to uncover and combines
information with entertainment well.
It certainly left me
with a different impression of Justice Marshall, from dour to ebullient,
and thatís a good thing. I did speak with one person who had seen the
real Marshall in person and he confirmed that, at that time at least, he
was more like the man in this picture than the one in my memory.
However, one of my
UVA law school classmates told me that when he argued a case before
SCOTUS Marshall slept through his argument and then wrote the opinion