Will Smith carries the movie, saving it from falling victim to a weak script.
Movie Review #1,044
2 hours, 3 minutes
Rated PG-13 (thematic material including some disturbing images, and language)
Released December 25, 2015
Directed by Peter Landesman
Written by Peter Landesman
Based in part on the GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Luke Wilson, Bitsie Tulloch, and Albert Brooks
“If I know how she lived, I know why she died.” – Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith in “Concussion”)
Bennet Omalu is an extremely likable character. A pathologist with seven different degrees, currently working on his eighth, he’s a walking foundation of Christian morals and humane characteristics. This isn’t your average pathologist. He stresses the why and not the how. To delineate that a little, cardiac arrest could be the how, but everything that could potentially have led to cardiac arrest is the why.
Will Smith captures this character phenomenally. His naturally compassionate performance melds with his dissolution into the accent and mannerisms of the character, an immigrant from Nigeria, to form brilliance. The title refers to Omalu’s main focus in the film: to supercede the NFL’s cover-ups and prove that concussions have, in fact, damaged the lives of football players. Some of what we see here feels disturbingly real, and as a matter of fact, it is. What’s even more real about Omalu’s study of concussions, and even scarier, is that it’s all mostly futile. Early on in the movie, we see Mike Webster initiate a Newton’s cradle. The act symbolically represents the unfortunate result of all of Omalu’s gatherings: no matter how much evidence he finds that the concussion epidemic is absolutely dehumanizing, football is far too powerful a sport to be sufficiently affected by these findings.
The connection we draw with the Omalu character, as well as Smith’s performance of him, is the best “Concussion” has going for it. It could have been a great movie, but it’s merely decent, thanks to its script. Peter Landesman, who also serves as the film’s director, must have done some serious reading on how to write a screenplay. It’s incredibly formulaic. It adheres strictly to the tried-and-true Syd Fieldian structure, and as a result, the story takes a while to get moving. In fact, it first appears to be a movie about autopsies on serial killers, rather than on football players. We see several interlude-ish scenes that depict the mental breakdowns of various football players, purportedly as a result of their concussions. These scenes change the mood of the film entirely, particularly when they follow equally unimportant scenes detailing the relationship between Omalu and his wife. “Concussion” makes very clear that it’s a Hollywood movie. It’s not a very well written one, for sure, but when we take Smith’s performance into consideration, it’s definitely above average.