‘Concussion,’ Smith Let Down By Script

Concussion_posterWell…it’s going to be awkward watching my next NFL game…

Based on a true story, “Concussion” stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who fought against the National Football League from suppressing his research on the brain damage suffered by football players. Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin co-star as Peter Landesman writes and directs.

Will Smith doesn’t do too much acting nowadays, but when he does the film ranges from average (“Focus”) to dumpster fire (“After Earth”); it can be argued his last good movie was “I Am Legend” in 2007. “Concussion” falls into the former category, as it is a film that has an important message and a strong central performance, but falls flat in most every other category.

Movie accents are a fickle business. They can sometimes propel a performance, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Blood Diamond,” but all too often they come off as cheesy and derail a film before it can even get going. Luckily, Will Smith’s African accent isn’t distracting and actually adds to his performance.

Smith’s Omalu is a kind, sympathetic man who growing up in Nigeria wanted nothing more than to be an American. So he continuously does things to try and fit in and help his fellow countrymen; which makes it all the more painful and confusing to him when they reject his discovery of what football hits do to the brain. Smith does a lot with his eyes, and even though he is at the center of the plot and in most every scene, it is a nuanced performance.

Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks both give entertaining and dedicated performances as two of Omalu’s associates, continuing to back him even when the NFL and even FBI threaten him.

Much like “Spotlight” angered us by what the church did to hide the priest sexual abuses, “Concussion” does not paint the NFL in a good light. Not only did they reject Omalu and his research, but they had known about what multiple concussions does to the human brain for years and had said nothing. It is a problem that has come into the mainstream in the past several years, but it isn’t going away anytime soon. I love football and played it for eight years, but this film isn’t going to make me (or likely anyone) stop watching, and that may make you feel guilty when you see what men go through, essentially risking their minds and lives for our entertainment.

Impactful story and performances aside, there is really nothing else done here worth mentioning. The script acts like a cliffnotes of what happened with Omalu, flowing more like scene-scene-scene than an actual fluid film. The film doesn’t even build to any real head, but instead jumps ahead a few years to show the aftermath of everything. The editing is also at times awkward and off-putting, with various cuts to different angles mid-monologue, with the dialogue is almost lagging behind. And this was shocking to me because it is spliced together by William Goldenberg, who won an Oscar for the brilliantly edited “Argo.”

Combining the confused script and the editing, several sequences simply make no sense. There is one scene when Omalu’s wife believes she is being followed by a car, and then in the next scene she is shown having a miscarriage. The correlation? The purpose? Not a clue.

“Concussion” is the very definition of a rainy Saturday afternoon cable movie. You can have it on in the background and if you miss a scene here or there it won’t affect your understanding of what’s going on. Smith’s efforts are to be commended (he earned a Golden Globe nomination) and the film’s intentions are pure, but really I was never moved by the film itself, and by the time it really starts to become anything resembling interesting, it is almost over.

Critics Rating: 5/10



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