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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Concussion (Blu-ray)
Concussion (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures // PG-13 // March 29, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted March 23, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Stop me if you've heard this capsule before: take an above the title, international box office superstar, and put him in a film with a less than subtle push towards Oscar recognition. Then, on top of that, his character is fighting a multibillion dollar sport that the country sets its calendars to. That covers a lot of bases, but there are still things that could fail, like the cameras start rolling on the production, as appears to be the case in Concussion.

Peter Landesman (Parkland) and adapted a script from a GQ article titled "Game Change," and directed the film as well. The film tells the story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith, Focus), a Nigerian immigrant with multiple Bachelors and Masters degrees who found work in America as a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh. One day in 2002, he does an autopsy of a fifty-year old man named Mike Webster (David Morse, The Rock) and finds conditions within Webster's organs and skin inconsistent with those of a fifty-year old man.

However, Webster is no ordinary man in Pittsburgh; he was one of the members of the National Football League's Pittsburgh Steelers, winners of four Super Bowls in the late 1970s. Omalu makes the determination, with the help of his mentors, his supervisor Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks, This is 40) and Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock), who treated Webster for years, that Webster's work as an NFL player accelerated the end of his life. Concussion attempts to illustrate the attempts to sully Omalu's reputation and quash any correlation between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the disease Omalu believes is tormenting the brains of scores of former football players, leading to mood swings, violence and premature death.

There may be a causation/correlation to one's thoughts on Concussion relative to how familiar one is with concussions and head injuries in professional sports these days; I'm pretty up to speed on professional football's concussion problem despite not being an avid follower of the sport, and my wife wrote an article surrounding concussions/traumatic brain injury for a medical association some years ago. We're somewhat versed in the medical symptoms and on the efforts from the League to deny cause, for fear of class action lawsuits by the NFL's former players. Never mind that the NFL has been pushing drugs and anti-inflammatories into their players for decades so the players could make the next game, but you get the point. I am willing to admit that one has to start SOMEWHERE when it comes to looping the public in on some of these things, and am willing to sacrifice personal satiation for the wider pool of people being aware of what concussions do to players, past and present.

With films like Concussion or The Insider, striking the balance between uncovering what a large corporation knew and when they knew it is a difficult proposition at times. Smith's inflection of Omalu's accent is dialed down slightly and Omalu is a modest person in the film, with Smith's tendency for passion well-placed in scenes that require it. In scenes with his wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jupiter Ascending), the two have a charm that is slightly palpable. However, Concussion tends to employ mechanisms to deliver empathy but in ways that simply aren't necessary or just silly. The script or direction wants to make Omalu into a prototypical whistleblower, but to do that, Omalu would have had to be in professional circles in the NFL that he tended to abhor.

Also, a key part of the story that Concussion doesn't tell for whatever reason is showing the NFL as the ominous bully, save for a couple of things I vaguely allude to just above. There is a lot of talk about threats, and some poorly executed mechanics done by the League to besmirch Omalu's credibility. By making the main emphasis of Concussion in essence ‘Bennet Omalu vs. the National Football League,' Concussion is left incomplete as a result.

Over the course of the two-hour long Concussion, it felt at times as if the NFL concussion issue was being used as a springboard for another Will Smith Oscar push. And at the time this came out and I saw it I was fine with it to an extent. But more and more as the weeks have rolled on, to see that paying attention to the story was skewed in substantial parts, I think that more people than you could estimate had a flawed idea of what Concussion should be, but the one thing I can say about it is that it isn't good.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

At an AVC encoded 2.39:1 transfer, Columbia/Sony has given Concussion a wonderful transfer, with consistent, inky black levels through most of the film, image detail is just as consistent and sharp in tight shots as it is in Pennsylvania exteriors, and juggling the older NFL/ESPN footage, the colors appear natural with no issues of noise or saturation. Barely three months out of movie theaters, the source material is pristine and the Blu-ray razor sharp.

The Sound:

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track is just as impressive, whether it is football hits from current (or past) games, or in a scene in a nightclub when Bennet and Prema are getting more familiar with one another and the songs are pulsating the low-end, the soundtrack gets a good amount of material to work with and exhibits a better than expected range. Combined with James Newton Howard's score, and from a technical perspective Concussion is a far too early out of the gate leader for best presentation of 2016.

Extras:

Landesman contributes a commentary for the film. I was kind of hoping that it would talk about the New York Times controversy around the film, or about concussions in pro sports, but it stuck closely to the production. He discusses intent of some scenes and explains some others, tosses in some on-set production recollection and shares thoughts on the cast and crew. Overall, quite the generic track.

The other extras are forgettable honestly, but there are nine deleted scenes (12:52), one of which includes a brain and a serving spoon that I couldn't help but laugh at and wanted its inclusion in the final cut; "Inside the True Story" (11:10) interviews the real-life doctors and shares opinions on the events in real life, and "Crafting Concussion" (12:55) is a fairly average making-of on the film, though it includes an appearance from Ridley Scott, who served as one of the film's producers, along with his wife.

Final Thoughts:

Even if you don't come into Concussion expecting League of Denial: the Movie, there are still problems with the film that go past the good intentions of Smith's performance (Brooks and Morse also contribute good work here), and the story is damaged from the jump, staying that way. Technically the disc is incredible but the supplements are underwhelming. Maybe worth a rental if you know little about what the NFL is doing to its employees at the moment.

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