From the Archives: Concussion review

From the Archives: Concussion review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

About thirty minutes too long, with a distinct lack of focus, Concussion is merely passable entertainment. But as an audition tape for Will Smith to start getting weightier gigs, it succeeds greatly. After sleeping his way through Focusearlier this year, it was exciting to see Will Smith completely lose himself in a role, and to do so with such a weightless script says even more about his talents. Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian immigrant with an impressive medical background. He is working as a pathologist in Pittsburgh. He’s much more of an artist than the other doctors in his field (one of which is played by Mike O’ Malley, who’s always just a breath away from “going to Mo with the scores”). He talks to the corpses, gently requesting that they help him “tell their story.” It’s as easy to see why other doctors hate him as it is to see why he’s so good at what he does. One day, the body of a former Pittsburgh Steeler comes across his table. “Big Mike” Webster (David Morse, who does excellent work in the first act) was a local hero who fell into disgrace after retiring from professional football. He abandoned his family, became homeless, and basically went mad. This confounds Omalu, who isn’t content to simply determine the cause of death. He decides to dig deeper to find the root of Mike’s descent. How could an athlete in his fifties end up in such a terrible state? Spoiler alert: CONCUSSIONS.

Naturally, the publication of this knowledge does not sit well with the NFL, who act like a bunch of bullies (see: jocks) about it. Omalu, ever the Oscar-seeking, flawless do-gooder, with no room to grow as a character, refuses to back down, and we have ourselves a movie. It’s like Diet The Insider, only if The Insider is Coca Cola, Concussion is Sam’s American Choice. Diet Sam’s American Choice.

But it’s not a disaster! It’s certainly not offensive to anyone’s sensibility, nor is it a chore to get through, and the story is one that is still heavily in the modern football conversation. The battle between protecting players and keeping the sanctity of football intact is one I hear at the office everyday. In fact, I used to be one of those dinguses who was like “hurrr, why do we pay football players so much and then baby them?” But then I realized that I don’t really like football and was just running my mouth. Concussion, as light as it is, takes that mentality to task, calling to question just what it is that creates such a rabid devotion to America’s favorite sport. Is it really the violence that matters most?

There are a few notable performances throughout, most serving to elevate the blandly safe script into something decently entertaining. Albert Brooks, now in his second career, brings a realism to the proceedings as Omalu’s boss and confidant during his battle with the NFL. Alec Baldwin plays himself, but in scrubs. This isn’t a bad thing, but when you’ve got Will Smith – who rose to prominence for essentially playing Will Smith – disappearing entirely into his character, standing next to Alec Baldwin – whose latter career has pretty much been playing a silly version of himself – not disappearing at all, it doesn’t quite work. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as Omalu’s love interest is given the thankless task of trying to bring a character into the film that barely even exists on paper. Their romance feels shoe-horned into the film, consisting solely of schmaltzy moments in which Mbatha-Raw spouts “never give up” in roughly fifty different ways. It’s a shame, because her charisma is obvious, but she is given nothing to do. In fact, anytime she and Smith share the screen, the film screeches to a halt. That thirty minutes I said could be cut? It’s all right here in their romance.

So it’s a mixed bag overall. Perfectly enjoyable, if not nearly as artistic as it could and should be. While I’d prefer something a bit more biting, it’s certainly something you can watch with dad (although not my dad, who would prefer if all football players were given guns – which reminds me, I need to show him The Last Boy Scout).

And to think, there’s an alternate timeline where Will Smith would have done a happy-rap tie-in song:

(Woo! Hahaaaa! Uh. Uh-eh) Girl, strap your helmet on, it’s time to play (Woo!) It’s party at the game, on football Sunday (Uh, Hahaaaa!) (Woo!) Check my stats, girl, fifty yards rushin’ (Uh) Don’t stop the Will train (Hahaaaa!) Gonna get a concussion!! (Woooo! Uh, hahaaaa!)

Concussion opens today in Philly area theaters.

Official site.

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