CONCUSSION (USA 2015) **
Directed by Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Luke Wilson, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks
Slated for a Christmas release opening on Christmas Day, CONCUSSION has been picked probably because the studios thought it would be a film that would make a difference. Concussion is thought do to professional football what cancer did to the tobacco companies. Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER was a superb film about whistleblower Wigand played by Russell Crowe.
Unfortunately, Peter Landesman film about Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a sad disappointment.
It all starts in the film with huge praise for Dr. Omalu. He is cited as as an expert giving testimony in a murder case in court. He is questioned on his credentials, which he rattles on and on and on and on. For he is a very smart man. But the film is not.
The film for one is too formulaic. No surprises are in store – in any shape or form. Dr. Omalu is introduced in the film as the protagonist hero. As a forensic pathologist, he finds medical evidence of a common thread of suicides among former NHL football players. He discovers or rather names the disorder, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Before long, he comes head to head with the high rollers of the NHL who want him silenced. Dr. Omalu is offered a Washington job that he declines. And the script calls for him to romantically fall in love with his tenant, a nurse also from Nigeria and have a daughter. That is too much niceness for a Christmas movie.
The character of Dr. Omalu can do no wrong. He is already, deemed the most intelligent person in America, by the list of degrees the audience is informed at the start of the film. He is shown angry for all the right reasons. He is shy, kind, handsome and hardworking. He will go against the bad people. He talks to the bodies he performs autopsies on. He given choice dialogue like: “If you don’t speak for the dead, who will?” One would like to see a more believable human being – one who has faults and who makes mistakes in real life. The only scene he is shown with a slight fault is when he is accused of being a self-righteous bastard, but even then, he has a reason for being one. As Dr. Omalu comes from Nigeria, Smith plays him with an African accent, which many will assume is the accurate Nigerian accent.
The film is dotted at regular intervals of the deaths of various NFL players beginning with the longtime, Super Bowl-winning center for the Steelers, Mike Webster (David Morse). Dr. Omalu did his first autopsy on Webster. There are several other heroes in the film like Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and Omalu’s boss (Albert Brooks).
But despite the film being formulaic in dishing out a romance, confrontation scenes, feel good and feel bad segments, the film is a narrative mess. An example is the segment in which his girl Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) speeds way in a car believing she is followed only to result in a miscarriage, one that serves no real purpose in the story.
The best thing about the film is the appearance of British actor Eddie Marsan as expert Dr. Steven Dekosky.
Unfortunately, the film does not have more of him. Marsan shows how acting can be done with the minimum of dialogue.
CONCUSSION’s potential as a film could be better tapped with a script doctor doing an autopsy on the original screenplay.