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Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // December 25, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
It's no joke when Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) says that NFL owns a day of the week. While I've never been much of a sports man myself, there's no denying the love that fans have for the game. Columbia Pictures was correct in believing that this could make a good film, if executed correctly. Before seeing Concussion, my biggest question involved how writer/director Peter Landesman would depict the NFL. By the film's end, would the major sports company be portrayed as villainous or apologetic? While the film's concept is intriguing, it falls into the category of Oscar bait.
Concussion is based on the true story of Nigerian immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith). Having achieved his dream of moving to America, he works as a forensic neuropathologist. When a famous football star passes away, his body is brought to Dr. Omalu for an autopsy. He makes the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, but the NFL is willing to do whatever it takes to keep it a secret.
While the plot about the discovery of CTE certainly takes much of the spotlight, there is another story being told that actually works as the film's centerpiece. This happens to be an immigrant's search for the American Dream. Dr. Omalu speaks about how he has wanted to live in the United States ever since he was a young boy. However, despite his attempts to act as a good citizen would, he's often discriminated against for his nationality and citizenship status. This plot decision proves to be an intriguing one that pays off, as it allows us to feel more connected with the lead. There are stakes other than his career, but also his livelihood. Concussion clearly shows signs of wanting to be a character study, as time jumps show progressions in his personal life. While Dr. Omalu is certainly an interesting person to learn about, Landesman's screenplay handles it in a formulaic and predictable fashion.
The word that best describes Landesman's screenplay is heavy-handed. Most of the drama is a bit too on-the-nose for its own good. It's exactly what one would expect to see from Oscar bait, as it tries to force extra emotion out of sequences that could have easily spoken for themselves. It even has multiple monologues talking about how great America is, which immediately pulled me out of Dr. Omalu's story, rather than pulling me in deeper. His clear pursuit of the American Dream is enough. We don't need multiple speeches to make us relate to him. Each time that a subtle element is introduced, Landesman explains it to the point of practically hitting us over the head with it. Concussion often tells us more than it shows us, which is a big screenwriting issue.
As far as NFL's treatment, Landesman makes the right move by holding the company to their actions. Much like the cigarette industry, they denied that their product caused any harm to participants. Despite Dr. Omalu's evidence of CTE, they continued their attempt in hiding this secret. Concussion could have easily portrayed the NFL in a favorable light by the time the credits started rolling, but Landesman appropriately portrays them as antagonists in this story. However, he attempts to make other obstacles for Dr. Omalu. Daniel (Mike O'Malley) is a co-worker who is also treated as an antagonist in his hostile opinion of the lead. Whether or not the event took place is irrelevant; the film doesn't need it. Between the NFL and character study, the film had more than enough ground to cover. This sub-plot feels insanely forced.
It has been quite some time since I have heard about Will Smith in a film with supposed Oscar potential. However, Smith manages to impress as Dr. Omalu, as he becomes more convincing in the role as the film progresses. The fluctuations in his accent can become a bit too noticeable during some of the more emotional scenes, although he still delivers a performance that kept me intrigued throughout the film's entire duration. Albert Brooks is great as Dr. Cyril Wecht, as he delivers some of the feature's humor that breaks up the drama. While he doesn't get a whole lot of screen time, his sequences with Smith are quite strong.
Concussion has numerous flaws, but it remains to be a passable drama. It explores an interesting topic that portrays the NFL exactly as it should within this time period. Will Smith is quite good, even despite some of the overly-dramatic scenes. Unfortunately, the screenplay is incredibly heavy-handed, as it continues to tell us what is happening rather than simply showing us. If the writing was better, this could have been a much stronger piece of cinema. As it stands, it doesn't land much of an impact, although it's worth checking out for Smith's performance. Concussion fumbles the ball in this average sports drama. Rent it.