2.8 out of 5 stars (decent)
Concussion is one of those movies that has a good cast and a very important message, but has too many flaws to win an Oscar or be slated as a classic. The cast members are giving it their all, but are let down by the material in front of them. The director of this film has one other project under his belt, and it’s painfully easy to see that, with odd camera shots, not-so-subtle writing, and misplaced comedy that deflates the dramatic tension. Thank God for Will Smith and Alec Baldwin being good enough actors to make the material work. Had they not been cast, this film likely would have disappeared into the vacuum of forgotten sports dramas.
The film follows Dr. Bennett Omalu (Smith putting on an extremely convincing Nigerian accent), a coroner who discovered and named CTE, a disease afflicting retired football players as a result of multiple hits to the head over the course of their careers. To make matters worse, the NFL knew of this problem and put it under the rug. No one believed Omalu besides ex-Steelers doctor Julian Bales (Baldwin having trouble deciding on whether or not to do a southern accent). However, with the support of his boss (comedic relief Albert Brooks) and girlfriend (Gugu-Mbatha Raw), Omalu would stop at nothing.to expose the League and spread the truth to prevent further injury.
This movie caused mixed feelings for me. On one hand, Will Smith is dedicated to his character, keeping the accent up throughout, imbuing Omalu with likability and sympathy that immediately gets us on his side. Alec Baldwin gives a fine performance as well, despite switching between his normal voice and an overdone southern accent (one scene in a hotel room near the film’s end is unintentionally hilarious due to this problem). Newcomer Gugu-Mbatha Raw has good chemistry with Smith in their scenes together. However, the scenes of players being affected by CTE are extremely tense, well-shot, and convincingly acted, brutally showing the pain these players went through, making them, in my opinion, the best scenes in the film.
Unfortunately, Concussion has several problems that keep it from being a complete pass. The first and most glaring of these problems is the film’s pacing. The first 20 minutes of this movie are glacially slow, making it impossible to tell what the main plot will be. At first, it seems the film will be about Omalu’s relationship to his girlfriend, which left me feeling confused. At the 30-minute mark, we see Omalu examine the first body (Mike Webster), and I remembered what I paid for. The pacing picks up a bit after this point, but it still is a slow movie.
The second problem I have lies with the cinematography. This past semester (Fall of 2015), I took a video editing class where I learned the importance of camera shots, lighting, and other editing tricks. The director of this film needed to take this class before he shot this movie. Most scenes are fine, but there are others that are hilariously blurry, making it hard for me to know what to focus on. There is also a sequence in a dance club that could have been deleted without hurting the movie at all. These and other minor mistakes in the movie make it frustrating to watch at times, especially since the film’s message about the corruption of the NFL and its disregard for its players safety is one that everyone should see.
The final problem I have with the film is a more personal one. I didn’t grow up watching football and following player’s careers, so I don’t understand people’s obsession with it. I do not hate the game itself, but the amount of love people have for it. This movie was shot in Pittsburgh, where the events took place, and some of the dead players were Pittsburgh icons (Mike Webster was a “favorite son” of the area). The movie seems to think that everyone going into this film will know about the players who died from CTE, and doesn’t make an effort to explain them to outsiders. I did not grow up in Pittsburgh, nor had I ever heard of any of these players before seeing the film. It is horrible that they died due to negligence of the NFL, but I could not feel as sad as the film wanted me to because of my lack of knowledge.
That being said, there are two reasons to see this film: The message about the corruption of the NFL, and Will Smith. Had I never seen Smith in a movie before, I would think he sounded like this character in real life. While not Oscar-worthy, Smith’s dedicated performance deserves attention. He carries the film on his shoulders, and his performance should not be missed. Luckily, he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama, as well as other minor awards, but the Academy failed to recognize him, furthering the #Oscarssowhite controversy of this year.
All in all, Concussion is a decent movie with a very important message. It’s weighed down by odd directing, some badly-placed humor, and a horrid pace, but I still recommend the film so that people will know the truth about the game they love so much.
Rated PG-13 for Thematic Material Including Disturbing Images and Language