‘Concussion’ Can’t Quite Tackle its Difficult Subject

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionE-mail page to friendE-mail page to friendPDF versionPDF version
No votes yet
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – “Concussion” suffers from what I call the “Moneyball” problem – it’s got an interesting subject matter, but it doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. It doesn’t have enough faith in its own material or its audience, so it stocks up on a lot of off-the-shelf melodrama in effort to avoid digging into what makes the story interesting in the first place. It’s also a movie that chickens out at the end and seems afraid to pick a fight.

Will Smith plays Bennet Omalu, a highly educated pathologist from Africa who has more degrees than most physicians and is working as a medical examiner in Pittsburgh. Smith gives a highly mannered performance – complete with an African accent – which is a little jarring at first. But Smith seems to be working from the outside in. The character is defined first by his idiosyncrasies, such as talking to the bodies he’s performing autopsies on to try to get a sense of who they were.

Will Smith
Will Smith in ‘Concussion’
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Smith seems to let his accent, those idiosyncrasies, and a few nods to faith define Dr. Omalu, rather than getting at the heart of what makes him tick. His life changes forever when a Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Famer dies and winds up in Smith’s morgue. He performs an autopsy, and on nothing more than an educated hunch he orders a few more expensive tests to find out what years of blows to the head had done to the man.

Omalu’s search for answers about the effects of concussions and traumatic brain injuries is the heart of the film, but at times it seems like Will Smith is remaking “Enemy Of The State” – with the NFL as the all seeing, all powerful boogeyman. He’s aided by a former team doctor for the Steelers (Alec Baldwin) who is heartbroken by the sight of so many former players he treated dying so young. He decides to help Smith take on the NFL to get the word out and get a kind of shot of redemption for himself in the process.

While the NFL is the all-out villain here, designed to suppress the truth, the film itself plays a little fast and loose with the facts as well. Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) is portrayed as a corporate stooge – who turned his back on his fellow players problems, tried to discredit the research and then faced insurmountable health problems of his own. Duerson’s own family has found fault with the characterization.

Alec Baldwin, Will Smith
Alec Baldwin and Will Smith in ‘Concussion’
Photo credit: Columbia Pictures

Smith is backed up by a solid-but-uneven supporting cast, with both the best of the bunch (the great Albert Brooks) and the worst (comedian Mike O’Malley) populating the Pittsburgh morgue. The film takes several narrative roads to nowhere along the way by adding in a pointless romance with a fellow African immigrant, which features him proposing to her in a vacant lot. This neither fleshes out the character much or adds much to the story.

Writer/director Peter Landesman spends the whole movie playing up the NFL as a bad guy, while offering a few crumbs of dialogue to attest to the artistry of the game – so the final scenes in this movie seem like an epic cop out to help the NFL. A very good movie could have been made about this topic, if Landesman had the courage to actually tackle the subject matter “head on.” Instead, he kind of dances around it, and then seems to lose his nerve at the end. “Concussion” should have landed a solid hit, instead it only manages a glancing blow.

”Concussion” opens everywhere December 25th. Featuring Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Mike O’Malley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Reiser and Luke Wilson. Written and directed by Peter Landesman. Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters

By SPIKE WALTERS
Contributor
HollywoodChicago.com
spike@hollywoodchicago.com

© 2015 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

User Login

Free Giveaway Mailing

TV, DVD, BLU-RAY & THEATER REVIEWS

  • It's NOT ALL About You John Michael

    CHICAGO – John Michael epitomizes the art of the monologue. The Chicago transplant, by way of Dallas, is moving on (he says temporarily) from the city that inspired his last show, “Meatball Seance,” after notorious and successful runs of his other one-man shows, “John Michael and the Order of the Penix” and “Dementia Me.” His farewell performance is his latest, another laugh riot, “It’s NOT ALL About You John Michael,” and will take place at Mary’s Attic in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood on March 1st, 2019. Click here for details, including ticket information.

  • Soccer Player in the Closet, The 2

    CHICAGO – Connecting to the theater collective Nothing Without a Company means a couple of things. One, you may visit parts of Chicago you’ve never seen before – in this case a plant store in an industrial area south of Humboldt Park – and two, you will see some daring and outside-the-box stagings. “The Soccer Player in the Closet” is their latest production – a World Premiere – and it provides what the title implies and beyond. The play runs through March 17th, 2019. Click here for more details, including ticket information.

Advertisement



HollywoodChicago.com on Twitter

archive

HollywoodChicago.com Top Ten Discussions
referendum
tracker