Not Quite A Touchdown
As with “Spotlight”, “Concussion” is one of those movies that has a very important story to tell. “Concussion” tells the story of Doctor Bennet Omalu and his work with CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Discovering the mental health illness after finding a link between playing football and the disease, after the suicide of hall of fame Pittsburgh Steeler center Mike Webster, Omalu makes his research known to the public. Much to the surprise of Omalu, the NFL rejects his research worrying it will hurt their brand. Omalu continues his work with the help of former team doctor of the Steelers to help bring the issue to the public.
Like “Spotlight” this didn’t happen all that long ago. The effects of the real life events of “Concussion” are still being felt today throughout the NFL. The actions taken by the sports organization, the mental illness, and the effect on the sport in general, are all packed together into one story package (and even the love life of Omalu is thrown in for good measure). If anything at its heart “Concussion” is less a story about the actual disease and subsequent legal battles Omalu faced against the NFL but more of a story about a man who came to America to achieve the American dream. But, for only America’s favorite game to reject him despite his well intentions.
Unlike “Spotlight” though, “Concussion” falls prey to an unfocused and undisciplined narrative, tonal issues, and mediocre directing. Will Smith gives what is perhaps his greatest performance of his career and helps elevate the movie around him. At times the movie is emotionally resonate and is always filled to the brim with good acting. However these emotional moments are only that, moments. Unfortunately these moments don’t carry as connective tissue throughout the free flowing narrative.
After the embarrassing outing that was “After Earth” Will Smith certainly nabs a role much more suited to his talents. Bennet Omalu is from Africa, more specifically Nigeria. Foreign accents are tricky to feel authentic without coming across as exaggerated. Smith feels completely natural in the role and comes across very believable. He gets lost into the character to the point where halfway through the movie I reminded myself this is Will Smith. I’ve always found him to be overlooked when it comes to drama and here he showcases his talents full in hand.
Surrounding him in the supporting cast is a strong Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin (giving the most effort I’ve seen from him in a long while). Gugu Mbatha-Raw is very good as Omalu’s love interest, Prema Mutiso. However, there is some issues with Raw playing Mutiso. The trouble with her is in regards to her character not the actual performance.
Mutiso is given very little of an attempt from the screenwriters to form her character. The majority of character shines through Raw’s performance but her characters only serves Omalu but not any sort of other function. She is there for Omalu to have a love interest and that’s about it. This makes the love scenes feel slow and drag out; acting more of hindrance to the rest of the movie then something to further it.
Director Peter Landesman shows some promise as a filmmaker with crafting many mature and dramatic scenes, while great performances out of his actors. Still he and his teams of editors don’t always flow different tones together in a very natural cohesive package. There are scenes showing the former NFL superstars losing themselves to CTE that oddly enough feel very out of place. A lot of these are over dramatic and range onto a horrific level of dramatic tension that isn’t consistent with the rest of the movie. The humor used in this dreary picture does lighten the mood a bit however sometimes it’s used in the wrong places and at the wrong times disrupting the flow of drama.
“Concussion” is a movie that is easy to sit through with a lot of technical errors in Landesman’s approach to filmmaking. The performances are solid (with the added greatness of Smith’s performance) but the movie is at times very messy. The story is told in a fashion that is easily accessible but unfortunately it doesn’t hit hard enough like the movie this story deserves.