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Concussion – Movie Review

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Concussion – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Sony Pictures

This awards season has been filled with stale biographical films just content on relaying information more than producing a compelling story. For every Joy, Bridge of Spies and Steve Jobs, there’s a Danish Girl, Trumbo and Spotlight that feel more at home on television than being watched on the biggest screen possible. Concussion can be added to the latter group of biopics. Mostly riding on the strength of its lead actor’s charms, this movie doesn’t delve deeply enough into the turmoils faced by NFL players after years of head concussions. It’s just another stale and stodgily directed picture and it’s frankly getting tiring seeing them pile up near the end of the year.

In the opening scene, we’re immediately treated to Will Smith’s charisma through his portrayal of Dr Bennet Omalu, thus already making us gravitate towards him. This is mainly a showcase for Smith and he is able to bring his acting chops, right down to a solid Nigerian accent. When he has to deliver a monologue or two, he does his job and leaves an impression. One can see his passion for making sure people and players find out about the problems associated with the sport of American football. Another actor who does well in a smaller role is David Morse playing Mike Webster, who gives us a strong idea of what some athletes of the sport had to deal with. Unfortunately, Gugu Mbatha-Raw is sidelined into the “supportive wife” role and the romance seems to blossom a little too quickly between Prema and Bennet.

To get the film’s message across, Concussion is overly edited with obviously symbolic cuts that exist to drive the point home. However, there’s really not much to this story outside of the usual “underdog facing the corporation” tale. The story beats we expect to happen occur and the script doesn’t offer much further insight than we already know. While the NFL deserves some criticism for hiding the facts about head concussions, the script paints them as outright villains with little to no remorse for their athletes. Meanwhile, the audience is also given a lot of speechifying about the beauty of the sport.

Harming the material a bit more is the stale direction from Peter Landesman. The whole film is presented in such a TV-movie of the week feel, it affects some of the emotional connection. There’s nothing remotely cinematic about his treatment of the tale, when a bit more flash could have been shown. Outside of Mike Webster, the other players are mostly small side characters and the diagnosis towards their concussion is purely base level. What’s surprising is we never seen the reaction from the regular sports fans to all of these revelations. Most of Concussion is set inside the NFL board rooms and the clinic where Bennet works.

The subject matter of Concussion might have been stronger in a documentary, particularly from a more hard-hitting filmmaker. This serves as a fairly sub-standard treatment that only shows the surface level. Will Smith is certainly good, but even he can’t quite carry the film on his shoulders. This serves as another reminder that during this time of year, there needs to more than just a basic recreation to stand out in the crowded field of biopics. It also makes one appreciate the biographical pictures that actually take a chance and aren’t willing to simply direct its subject in a by-the-numbers manner.

Stefan Ellison

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