THURGOOD (2011) is one of those incredible HBO films that makes me believe in synchronicity.
I have always complained that a severe problem with American actors is they have never confronted their audience - unlike the British, who spend years performing in the streets, at Shakespeare's old haunts and tiny old theaters. The British practically lay (or jump into) the audience's lap. Americans have no idea what an "audience" is.
In THURGOOD, Lawrence Fishburne, about whom I know little other than he's an actor I love, portrays USSC Justice Thurgood Marshall, a man who was a hero to both me and my father. Hoofing about onstage at the John F. Kennedy Center, before a live audience no more than a few feet from him, Fishburne shoulders this awesome one-man-play film with such cool, studied professionalism, I felt like it was actually Marshall.
But I know all along it is Fishburne and his amazing talent. He begins old, hobbled as I recall Marshall when he announced his retirement. Then Fishburne does the amazing: he ages backward twice, with nothing more (nothing less!) than his skill. Once he ages backward to middle age, then again to about his 30s. At the end, in the space of about ten minutes, he ages back to 'old age'. And he nails Marshall spot-on, voice, gestures, jokes and foul language that were hallmarks I recall very well.
This play mainly covers the story of Marshall's rise to fame in the law, describing his major lifetime accomplishments. It is sadly thin on his Supreme Court years because he did have a habit of simply concurring with Justice Stevens and nothing more. The play is happily thin on gimmickry, but I did not like the music competing with Fishburne's lines.
I loved the way certain photographs were flashed on the giant screen behind Fishburne, but that wasn't overdone, either. It flavored and bolstered the performance. I cannot believe the discipline, the memory and the sheer nerve it takes to do something this powerful and unique. This is not Leonard Nimoy playing Vincent Van Gogh's brother in "Theo". It isn't John Gielgud in his one-man stage film SWAN SONG, but it's darned close.
It is transcends an imaginary night with Thurgood Marshall; it isn't imaginary but it is 100% Fishburne. This is not the sort of thing I like at all. Some of my friends almost killed me for refusing to attend Hal Holbrook's portrayal of Mark Twain back when they brought the show here. I STILL would not go to a thing like that.
Here I am sorry as hell that I missed being at JFK Center to see Lawrence Fishburne - and when you see this, you will be sorry you weren't there either. Marshall once said he'd "live to be 110, then die ... shot by a jealous husband." Fishburne delivers the line flawlessly, and we wish the longevity had been true for Marshall. Certainly for Fishburne, and no doubt for this film.
Get this DVD and always have the next best thing. Remember also that you will be seeing something unique in modern cinema, something I hope we'll see productions companies do a LOT more often.