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Heroes / Legal Fictions

Michael Asimow  of  Stanford Law School shares with  us his review of the new film Marshall:

This enjoyable and inspiring movie is a worthy contribution to the courtroom movie genre.  You’re going to love it.

The movie memorializes the great Thurgood Marshall (who later won Brown v. Bd. of Education and sat on the Supreme Court). The film brings to life a forgotten rape case in Connecticut that Marshall tried early in his career when he was the solo staff lawyer at the NAACP.  The story focusses on the plight of a black man accused of raping a white woman and it highlights issues of racism and classism in the courtroom and on the streets.

The movie recalls the classic films “To Kill a Mockingbird” (which also involved a black on white rape case) and “Anatomy of a Murder.”   Like “Anatomy,” which also involved sexual issues, the trial consumes most of the movie.  What I really liked about “Marshall,” as well as “Anatomy of a Murder,” is that–as in real life–a trial is an attempt to reconstruct the past but we can never be sure of what actually happened.  The jury must select between conflicting narratives about the disputed events and we (like the jury) can never be certain of who is telling the truth. The lawyer’s job is to come up with a story that fits the facts and sell it to the jury.  As this blog emphasizes, guile is good and Marshall was definitely not lacking in guile.

The writing of this film is sharp and witty and the acting and direction are great.  Particularly strong is the emerging partnership and friendship of Marshall and the local lawyer, Sam Friedman. Marshall was not admitted in Connecticut and so he needed a local lawyer as co-counsel. Friedman is a Jewish lawyer specializing in insurance defense who had never tried a criminal case and thought he would just sit next to Marshall during the trial and and do nothing.  But the racist judge refuses to allow Marshall to participate in the trial and requirers the terrified Friedman to conduct the entire trial with Marshall serving as his adviser.  The way Friedman rises to the occasion is quite inspiring and recalls the great days of Black/Jewish collaboration in the civil rights movement.

Go see this film as soon as you can and tell your friends about it


  1. Hmmmm, I’m not sure what part of this is Michael Asimow’s review and what part is John Denvir’s commentary. Regardless, am looking forward to the movie.


    • The first paragraph in italics)is my introduction, and the remainder is Asimow’s review. I apologize for any confusion.

      John Denvir


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