Concussion (Columbia Pictures, PG-13)

concussion 75I found myself quite pleased with Concussion, despite its flaws.

Concussion 500

I’ve noted in the past that, while in real life I have exactly zero interest in sports, a good sports movie is still a good movie—my real-life disinterest can’t keep me out of the material if the movie is good enough. But hey, with the new Peter Landesman film Concussion we have a good anti-sports movie! Sounds right up my alley!

Well, actually, I’m not convinced that Concussion is a terribly well-written or –directed movie (Landesman wrote the screenplay as well), but if nothing else it’s a well-cast and –acted movie, and that’s good enough to make the endeavor worthwhile. The film is based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian-born, American-employed forensic pathologist. Dr. Omalu, after conducting autopsies on a couple of high-profile ex-football players after their strange, rage-inflected deaths, recognizes the existence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which in short, reductive terms is a tendency to go crazy if one spends one’s life bashing their head into hard objects at high speeds. Needless to say, the National Football League was unhappy with Dr. Omalu’s findings, and did their best to silence him. (As I write this, many online news outlets are reporting that the NFL is now directly attacking this film, which plays very directly into the film’s hands.)

Concussion is one of those movies where, in one scene early in the movie, Dr. Omalu’s mentor Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) tells Dr. Omalu that he needs to find a wife, and then the next scene conveniently introduces a pretty, available female, here in the form of one Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, of last year’s Belle and Beyond the Lights). This type of writing is trite and glaring, and indicative of the way the entire movie goes, except that Ms. Mbatha-Raw is a solid enough performer that you hardly care how she got into the movie, so long as she’s there.

Which brings us to Mr. Smith. I’m somewhat reluctant to say it, as it seems like a dangerously bold statement, but I think that his performance here in Concussion is his career best. Not only does he nail Dr. Omalu’s Nigerian accent and wide-eyed confusion as to why anyone would deny science, there’s something different about his appearance and the way he carries himself that’s hard to pin down—it’s as if he somehow changed the structure of his face, making it rounder and fatter with wider-set eyes. If I hadn’t known he starred in this movie going into it, I probably wouldn’t have recognized him until the credits. Try saying that about any other performance from a male star as big as Will Smith of the past twenty years or so.

As such, I found myself quite pleased with Concussion, despite its flaws. Interesting (and important) story, very good performances, sticks it to sports. Not a hard sell for me, ha ha. | Pete Timmermann

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