Will Smith acts brilliantly in “Concussion”, but can’t save it

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Verdict: Great performance by Will Smith and solid directing, but just not interesting enough for a fiction film hitting the two-hour mark.

Grade: B-


Some films come along and you’re glad to see them to satisfy curiosity about a topic, but you wouldn’t buy a DVD or look them up again on Netflix. “Concussion” made me feel I was watching that kind of film. Despite the great acting by Will Smith, the movie just doesn’t seem to offer enough for a second viewing.

“Concussion” is a good film, but it eventually suffers the long run. Overall, one gets the feeling that this story could have been better told with a documentary, rather than a fiction product. This is the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) who called the country’s attention to serious head injuries football players suffer over their careers, leaving drastic consequences much after their last touchdowns. Dr. Omalu, however, just isn’t a character that is interesting enough to hold audiences for two hours.

There is a clear split in the structure of the film. In the first half, we see what led to Dr. Omalu’s research and his conclusions. In the second half, it is the fight of Dr. Omalu versus the NFL. This kind of double structure adds some variety to the film. Director and writer Peter Landesman does a great job in avoiding the long tribunal sequences often associated with this kind of movie. Seeing Dr. Omalu work, go home, fall in love, buy a home are all very welcome scenes, as they help build his character and save the audience from unnecessary tribunal details.

Character building starts from minute one, when Dr. Omalu lists his impressive resume before a court. Will Smith delivers a master class, and it’s difficult to imagine the film without him. He has an incredible ability to communicate as several immigrants do, trying to make facial expressions and tone of voice to make up for everyday words that are not always on the tip of the tongue. It’s easy to see the genius and the brilliant mind of this doctor who speaks to the dead and, as he points out, “for the dead.” This dichotomy is impressive in Smith’s work and, if he eventually wins a Golden Globe or an Oscar for this role, it would be well deserved.

In terms of cinematography, Landesman gives us a film that falls heavily towards the blue and grey. The color tone matches the cold: the cold weather of Pittsburgh, the cold dead bodies Dr. Omalu examines and the cold hearts of a company that neglected for long the risks associated with its sport. The color scheme fits the movie perfectly and also helps to bring out the introspective moments Dr. Omalu goes through.

The movie has a big pitfall in terms of story versus screen time. There are moments in the film that just seem to drag for a little too long with nothing new being presented. Character development is great at the beginning, but the true starting point – Dr. Omalu’s discovery – comes unreasonably late in the first act. The problem gets bigger by the end, when the final solution seems to take ages to come, such as the last two minutes of a football game.

“Concussion” is a tough film to sell. It tackles a sport that is very dear to our country and exposes its flaws. Outside the U.S., football clearly isn’t the sport of choice. Box office figures show that this wasn’t a winning combination. Judging only by its own merits, “Concussion” is a good film with a great performance by Will Smith. The directing is above average and does nothing that takes away from the film, except for the pace. However, it’s hard to say I would see it again. The story seems to belong in the documentary world, not the fictional one. It’s even harder to recommend unless you have a deep rooted passion for Smith or the topic of sport medicine and politics. This one falls short of a touchdown in many ways.

1 Comment

  1. I disagree entirely with this review. I thought that “Compassion” was an extremely compelling film, and my friend and I were near tears at the end. Will Smith’s performance is brilliant, and the other actors ere also very good. I highly recommend this film. I’d grade it an A.

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