Film Review: Concussion (★★½)

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concussionAn inspiring academic by the name of Dr. Bennet Omalu takes on the titan of Sundays, the NFL, in order to prove a direct link from head trauma during football games to CTE, a football related injury that occurs.  Writer/director Peter Landesman takes on the very detailed, and dramatic thriller “Concussion,” with an insightful amount of control in direction, mostly thanks to Academy Award winning editor William Goldenberg, who keeps most of the film at a decent pace.  However, with a clichéd script that brings the eye-rolling effect to a fever pitch, you can’t help but wish that the material was more rendered and secure in its delivery.  Surely to bring on an inner rage as we watch these men, so revered by Americans on a weekly basis, beg for absolution as they lose sight of themselves as time progresses.  What doesn’t work in “Concussion’s” favor is the glossing over the real human condition that is so desperately apparent in each frame the film attempts to show.

Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Will Smith as Omalu, he delivers one of his strongest performances ever.  An impeccable capture of a man from Africa, soulfully searching for acceptance in America, Smith brings a visible intensity in each line spoken.  Settling into a role that calls for the best parts of Smith’s charisma, which he has demonstrated effortlessly throughout his career, he handles it with an equally emotional heft that garners most of the film’s best moments.  This is a performance that deserves to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Landesman also constructs a decent cast with Alec Baldwin (not totally owning his own southern-ish accent in his exchanges), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (beautiful but utterly wasted in under developed scenes), and David Morse (who deserves much more roles and is quite effective in his limited screen time).  Of all the supporting players, Albert Brooks delivers as the vulgar Dr. Cyril Wecht.  It’ll call back to his beloved turn in “Drive” just a few years back (minus villainous murders).  As a distracting entity, Luke Wilson cast as Roger Goodell is a poor choice by the filmmakers, serving nothing more as celebrity wallpaper.

Composer James Newton Howard puts his horns on overload, sweeping into scenes that work well in films like “The Village” but with a film such as “Concussion,” it begins to grate on the ears at times.

concussionAt 123 minutes, the film bloats like you over indulged at dinner time.  In some bizarre, and almost “too try hard” choices, Landesman attempts to focus on some of the more “human” and “natural” elements of Dr. Omalu’s life.  As we find ourselves more interested in the case at hand, the writer/director almost sets out to make his version of “The Insider,” which would be fine if he got a better grasp on which elements he should focus on.

Concussion” isn’t a complete failure, delivering at times with a grandiose turn from Will Smith.  If anything, he’s more than worth the admission ticket but I believe most of all, the film does successfully place a spotlight on an issue that is in desperate need of change.  The final title cards will prove the NFL’s power, and even deepen your frustration and anger.  I think that it’ll at least offer up a discussion point.  That’s success on its own.

Concussion” opens in theaters on December 25 and is distributed by Columbia and Sony Pictures.