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Reginald Hudlin’s look back at an early case in the career of eventual Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is as downright entertaining as it is sadly historic.
A solid Chadwick Boseman stars as the young trial lawyer, hired by the fledgling NAACP to represent black defendants believed to be innocent and framed because of the color of their skin. We meet him in 1940, as a chauffeur is being accused of raping a white woman in Connecticut. Although the trial is set in Bridgeport, the incident allegedly happened in Greenwich, a name that, to an informed mind, reads “money”. Marshall and his unhappy aide de camp, a Jewish insurance attorney named Sam Friedman, must work together because, we discover, Marshall isn’t only not licensed in the state, there is history of other attorneys of color not being allowed to practice there. In Connecticut. In 1940. And that’s just the beginning.
Hudlin brings a deceptively easy take to all this, moving it along like a juicy TV procedural. But scratch that surface and we’re faced with details and characters far more complex than we might be expecting. When was the last time an episode of a courtroom drama truly illuminated and moved you?
A universally fine cast fills out the tale, led by Josh Gad, as the exasperated, frightened and ultimately heroic co-counsel. Kate Hudson brings a surprising sympathy to the woman who, in lesser hands, could have felt one dimensional. But it’s Sterling K Brown, as defendant Joseph Spell, who, once again, rips our hearts out., delivering a stunner of a speech as gut wrenching today as it could have been not that many years ago.