Reginald Hudlin's Marshall plays like the tony pilot of a TV law procedural, a legal thriller/buddy comedy about a crusading lawyer traveling the country on behalf of the NAACP, defending black men charged with crimes they probably didn't commit. Here he takes on the case of a servant accused of raping a white socialite in Bridgeport, Conn. -- and finds himself paired up with a wildly unqualified white co-counsel (Josh Gad). They could have called it From the Files of Thurgood Marshall, Part One: Social Justice Warrior.
It's not art, but look at Chadwick Boseman in those pinstripes, taking a sip from a water fountain labeled "Whites Only," raining thunder down on white reporters on the courthouse steps about how from now on black Americans would claim all that the constitution purports to promise. Boseman plays Marshall as a performer himself, a man who understands that it takes some theater to shake white folks into recognizing injustice.
In his first scene, to suggest to a courtroom the violence it took to get a confession out of his client, he pounds a cop's nightstick against a book. The finale finds him dictating a closing argument to the insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman (Gad), that a judge has made his partner. At first the words reel flatly out of Marshall, the facts of the case plus talk of law and scripture, but soon he's standing, getting louder, moved by the truths behind those words but also the power with which he's composed them. The scene is a brief on the urgent necessity of crafting outrage, of communicating it, of making it count.