'Marshall' highlights Thurgood Marshall's early career

Chadwick Boseman and Sterling K. Wilson in 'Marshall'

(CNN)"Marshall" uses a single case to shed light on civil-rights titan Thurgood Marshall, yielding an enlightening if somewhat arbitrary snapshot of the Supreme Court Justice during his crusading days working for the NAACP. Anchored by topnotch performances by Chadwick Boseman in the title role and Josh Gad, it's a 75-year-old story imbued with modern-day resonance.

Introduced in 1941, Marshall is crisscrossing the country handling cases, seeking elusive victories in the face of racial injustice. His travels bring him to Connecticut, where a wealthy socialite (Kate Hudson) has accused her African-American chauffeur, Joseph Spell ("This is Us'" Sterling K. Brown), of raping her.
Needing a local attorney as his co-counsel, Marshall enlists the reluctant Sam Friedman (Gad), a Jewish lawyer who specializes in civil suits and has no experience with criminal trials. Moreover, the judge (James Cromwell) bars Marshall from presenting the case, forcing Friedman to go up against the politically connected, blue-blood prosecutor ("Downton Abbey's" Dan Stevens).
Director Reginald Hudlin doesn't try to reinvent the wheel on what plays like a classic if somewhat small-boned story -- indeed, an HBO movie slightly blown up for theatrical release. The grudging bond that Marshall and Friedman forge -- after no shortage of bickering -- bears a resemblance to "In the Heat of the Night," a movie about mismatched cops released 50 years ago.