What starts off as an excellent investigation into the cause of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopahy) quickly tries to turn into something else and loses the ability to knock this one out the park. Will Smith shines with another solid performance under his belt, but unfortunately gets knocked down by odd choices in the final act.
Will Smith has finally gained over the course of his career, the ability to transform into his roles, like his portrayal of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness or perhaps Tim Thomas in Seven Pounds. They are remarkable for how little I think about Smith and more about his character. It’s a testament to how far he has come as an actor and continues to grow.
In Concussion, Smith is able to add Dr. Bennett Omalu to his list of excellent portrayals. He is fully immersed in this role and the speech patterns of Dr. Omalu. And I love that I’m not looking at Will Smith anymore when he commits to the role. When you are able to ignore the actor in front of you and really see who they have worked to become, that’s a very special moment. Sometimes we do it and still see the actor, that’s not the case with Smith. He clearly put time in learning the medical terminology and wasn’t stumbling over any of it. His autopsy scenes stood out each time because of this fact.
Sadly, despite Smith’s strong effort and decent additions from Alec Baldwin and the amazing Albert Brooks, (one of my favorite and under-appreciated actors), we get an odd film that doesn’t know what it wants to be when the final credits role. Is this just showing his investigation? How deep are we delving into his personal life? Why did this turn into a thriller midway through the movie?
It may have to do with director Peter Landesman’s inexperience, which would also explain some of the odd tunnel shots that seemed a little much and unnecessary. I think the parallel there was to equate him with some of the sports figures on whom he conducted autopsies. By having him spend time going through those tunnels, it puts him on the same level as those football greats. It could have been scaled back a bit and I think the point would have still been made.
They do an excellent job showing us the science and process behind Omalu’s research. We are able to see the various hurdles he had to endure to even get his findings published even before the fight with the NFL. That’s where the narrative gets a bit disjointed. When he has to face the NFL, the strong research moments were gone, replaced with the cat and mouse / pr fight between Omalu and the NFL. If we could go back and shore up the film at this point, we would be talking about a potential Oscar candidate, but we really start to lose traction here that never recovers. With the different threads of potential deportation, miscarriage, and job firing all thrown in the mix, we need a bit more time in these moments. They combine for a notably different feeling from the first half.
There was some literary license taken as there is with all of these “Based on a True Story” movies. This makes the car chase scene a bit problematic as the audience will assume that some one from the NFL is behind it. There’s also the pressure from the FBI in conjunction with the NFL’s various pressures that doesn’t hold up under more scrutiny, but is probably something we are likely to believe. You can enjoy most of this, but do your own research and remember this is still a fictional adaptation.
Despite the odd last half and irregularities, Will Smith’s performance is still worth the price of admission even if we won’t remember this film for much more than that.
Concussion: 6 out of 10
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