Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2018 - 26

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What if they made a movie about you?
Continued from page 25
Educational Fund traveling to venues
primarily in the South, but also in other
areas of the country, representing black
men and women accused of serious crimes.
The intention of the NAACP was to
represent only those individuals who were
innocent, so as to change a criminal justice
system that operated in an unconstitutional
manner to the disadvantage and peril of
black people. Mr. Friedman, portrayed
with a mixture of comedy and dramatic
conviction by Josh Gad, was not happy to
do so in that he feared that his insurancedefense practice would suffer as a result of
the publicity surrounding the case.
According to events depicted in the
film, the presiding judge, played well
and in an appropriately terse and abrupt
manner by veteran actor James Cromwell,
allowed Marshall to represent Spell, and sit
at counsel table, but forbade Marshall from
speaking during the trial. Marshall was
thereby forced to instruct Friedman in the
art of trying a criminal case, which he had
never done, while in court through the use
of notes and facial gestures, and while out
of court in a more direct fashion. Marshall,
for example, is seen not only composing
the closing argument, but instructing
Friedman in a visual trope whereby at the
rail of the jury box, the latter drips drop
after drop ink from a fountain pen into
a glass of water as he argues the various
points of reasonable doubt. (This form
of persuasion might be a good reason
to bring back fountain pens, at least for
criminal-defense attorneys.). Dan Stevens,
of Downton Abbey fame, portrays the
prosecutor, Loren Willis, whose biases and
prejudices are made quite evident, in a very
able fashion. I shall leave the trial's results
to the devices of the reader as viewer and/
or researcher.

26 | Berks Barrister

The degree of adherence to the actual
facts of the Spell case is somewhat unclear,
although there does appear to have been
some discrepancy regarding the account
of the incident initially given by Spell to
his lawyers, according to my reading of
the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning book
Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall,
the Groveland Boys, and the Dream of a
New America, by Gilbert King. Marshall,
however, is a movie, not a documentary,
and accordingly, it is not bound to the
strict portrayal of facts. As a movie,
Marshall affords an educational and
entertaining experience for the viewer,
particularly one not completely familiar
with the stark and frightening state of
Due Process protection afforded, or more
accurately, not afforded, to black criminal
defendants in the last century. Boseman
admirably portrays Marshall as a man who
knows who he is, what he needs to do,
and how to actualize his goals. Marshall's
personality is portrayed, individually and
in relation to the fine efforts of Gad in his
depiction of Sam Friedman, in a forceful,
yet personalized way. Gad's character
is also effectively developed in the film,
and by its conclusion, it is apparent that
Friedman, who has been changed by
Marshall to some degree, is a presence in
his own right.

In the fictional Roman J. Israel,
Esq., Denzel Washington delivers an
impressive performance of the eponymous,
protagonist/antagonist criminal defense
attorney. For his efforts, Washington
was nominated last year for an Academy
Award. Israel has been an idealistic
criminal defense attorney for his entire
career. As the partner of an older and
prominent attorney, Israel, who is depicted
as wearing a modified-Afro hairstyle,
large eyeglasses, and wrinkled attire, has
never really gone to court, but has focused
his practice upon the preparation of
motions, briefs, etc., in his behind-thescenes support of his colleague, who is
said in the film to have been a brilliant
courtroom practitioner in the criminaldefense arena. Early in the film, the
office's administrative assistant tells Israel
that his senior colleague has suffered what
ultimately amounts to a fatal medical
event, and asks Israel to seek a continuance
of the colleague's court appointment.
Israel goes to court, but does more than
requested. He gets into an argument with
the prosecutor over what he feels to be an
immoral plea offer, and instead of seeking
the continuance offered by the judge, seeks
to handle the court event himself, arguing
so strenuously in the process that he is held
in contempt of court.

While I would recommend that
Marshall be seen, I would also recommend,
strongly, that the piquant introduction
to Thurgood Marshall and to his life's
endeavors, that this film serves to provide,
be followed by a study and reading about
Marshall and his efforts to give teeth and
meaning to the Fourteenth Amendment.
In essence, I would recommend that one
go from moviegoer to better-informed
citizen. May I suggest that you start by
reading the esteemed executive director's
article elsewhere in this issue.

Upon returning to his office, Israel
is informed by a relation of his colleague,
in the presence of another criminaldefense attorney, George Pierce, that the
practice will not be turned over to Israel,
but rather, sold to Pierce. Colin Farrell is
quite discerning in his portrayal of Pierce
as a slick, successful, well-dressed, and
business-savvy legal entrepreneur, but
one with something of an altruistic and
sympathetic compass. Israel is devastated,
and after failing to secure employment,
ultimately and reluctantly accepts


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Berks County Bar Association The Berks Barrister Spring 2018

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