Concussion (2015) Movie Review: A Will Smith Show All the Way

Has anyone ever realized that starting from I, Robot (where he was willing to share screen time with a green screen), to I am Legend (where he ensured the entire city was cleaned of people), to Hancock (well, not exactly my point but I guess we could overlook that) to 7 Pounds and now Concussion, Will Smith makes movies where he gobbles up about 85% of the screen time? It’s not a bad thing, though it’s a thing!

But I digress, the post is not about Will Smith and his eternal hope for an Oscar. However in keeping that dream alive, he has worked (marvelously I might add) in Concussion, which is based on the real life of pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu who had uncovered the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions in the course of normal play. Apparently, repeatedly banging your head against other people for 10+ odd years might cause brain damage. Sounds about right, don’t it?

The movie shows Dr. Omalu’s struggles in trying to get his story published, the pressure tactics of the NFL to deny his findings and the backlash from the die-hard supporters who think it is their birth right to see men break each other while they chug their beers and scratch their paunches.

The movie scores on its theme of David vs Goliath. Dr. Omalu, the hard-working immigrant, a devout church goer, an honest, open-heartened, generous, courageous and not to forget academically brilliant human being … as David, and the big-billionaire-money-fueled NFL, acting flawlessly as the behemoth…our Goliath . The movie is held together by (two-time Academy Award nominee) Will Smith, who delivers one of his strongest performances ever. An impeccable capture of a man from Africa, soulfully searching for acceptance in America, Will Smith, does a wonderful job as the man trying to fight the good fight and I feel it is his best performance since “The Pursuit Of Happyness” (credit also due in that movie to the adorable and currently insane Jaden Smith)

However that’s all the movie offers. The clichéd script spoils everything the movie has to show and you can’t help but wish that the material was more extracted and secure in its delivery. You know there is a great story in there, but somehow it seems lost and falls flat on its face halfway through.

The movie tries to keep itself together by introducing characters who you think might be key to the story, though in the end if I was being honest, we could have had Will Smith wear wigs and do those roles himself. The cast might as well be a giant green screen. Alec Baldwin as Dr. Julian Bailes who acts as an existing NFL team’s team doctor and ends up as Omalus’ friend, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Prema Muitso who acts as Omalu’s love interest also seems utterly wasted in under developed scenes. And the host of others who probably had spent more time in their commute to and fro from the sets to actual screen time, do their bit parts decently well. Please note that this is in no way a taint on the ability of the actors themselves, it’s just that they had so little to do, it seemed like a waste of their time.

Concussion Still 1Peter Parkland (Director) has done a decent job in his second attempt as a director and, given his limited experience in the system, has pulled off something watchable, but only barely. What it really lacks is depth. It’s a basic story, told in a simple manner, but what it forgets to have is something engrossing enough that really pulls you into it. Granted, those who play American football would connect with this, though for a larger audience this movie might as well have been shot in space.

For those who have played this game (or even seen it on television) know the ‘Superman’ like culture that comes with it. How it is a sin to get hurt or how ridiculous a 6 foot 5 inch, 220 lbs linebacker saying, “I have a headache” will sound to everyone else.  However, what a normal fan or anyone who hasn’t played the game wouldn’t know, is the stress and depression that comes with the game and thus, with regards to a movie, I’m not sure it’s an appealing proposition. This movie seems like a watered-down version of what the script really wanted to say. It dramatically displays how players who are mountains among men end up broken and damaged beyond repair and it is gut wrenching, however at times the movie just seems to be a biopic and somewhere the mixing between the two stories just doesn’t seem well weaved.

Concussion, however, isn’t a complete failure, delivering at times with a grandiose turn from Will Smith. I don’t believe he would have won an Oscar for this, though I am very surprised he didn’t even get nominated.  If anything, he’s more than worth the admission ticket but I believe most of all, the film does successfully place a spotlight on an issue that is in desperate need of change and thus makes it worth a watch for that alone.

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