Set in 1941, Marshall focuses on only one case at the start of Thurgood Marshall’s law career with the NAACP. Reginald Hudlin’s film introduces us to the man who, in 1967, would become the first African American appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. This straightforward courtroom drama excavates the struggle for Black civil rights without making it seem like ancient history. Chadwick Boseman, as Marshall, outwits his opponents in a lawyer’s three-piece suit — a civilian’s version of a skin-tight superhero costume — without raising much of a sweat.
Boseman’s previous roles include other real-life figures like Jackie Robinson (42) and James Brown (Get on Up). He also plays the Black Panther, an Avenger in Marvel action films. This version of Marshall bears some relation to that mythical ideal of an archetypal hero. His only discernible flaw (a saintly one) is that he sacrifices his own personal life in order to serve his community. But it’s Sterling K. Brown, as a Black man accused of raping a white woman (Kate Hudson), who carries the emotional weight of the movie. In this supporting role, Brown doesn’t have much screen time. But when he does show up, you can see how racism has insinuated itself inside his body. The burden of it hunches his tall man’s posture, swells his eyes to red and softens his voice with a shame-filled quaver.
Opens Friday at the AMC Van Ness 14.