Director: Peter Landesman
Salvaged almost entirely by what is probably the greatest performance of Will Smith’s career, CONCUSSION is a film that suffers from nauseatingly poor writing, elementary visual execution, and sloppy narrative propulsion. Yet despite all its immediate setbacks as a motion picture, the intriguing narrative, articulately explained science, and fantastic character development help redeem many of its core flaws.
Playing a Nigerian coroner who discovers the severity of football-induced head trauma, Smith’s most commendable feat as an actor is not how effortlessly he slips into speaking with an African accent, but how he understands the mannerisms of an immigrant who has yet to comprehend the complexities of corporate America. This facet of his performance adds an additional layer regarding what it means to be an American, a repeating motif within the feature.
This time, he really is legend
Establishing Smith as a man of strong religious faith makes for a unique, compelling protagonist that is rarely seen in Hollywood, and his on-screen relationship with Gugu Mbatha-Raw, albeit clichéd and aggressively sappy, is an aptly executed, welcome change to the predominantly Caucasian biopics offered during awards season. Although the film is generic through and through, and follows all the by-the-book guidelines for Oscar-fodder, its premise, much like that of THE INSIDER, THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, SPOTLIGHT, or THE BIG SHORT, carries it a long way.
What CONCUSSION does best is solidify its message. It can be argued that the film’s target audience includes young parents that ought to be warned about the hazards of letting their children play football. Although ham-fisted, the screenplay makes a clear statement about America’s obsession with the sport, and that young, hopeful footballers are the ones that need to be informed about the risks involved. Admirably simplistic yet never patronizing towards its viewer, CONCUSSION cleverly writes out its scenes in order to showcase how head trauma occurs and why. Unfortunately, this also makes for some laughably bad animated sequences that feel more like a two-hour CSI special than a biopic on a medical expert.
He turned his back on the game and never was the same
Having said all that, viewers will be hard-pressed to find substance outside of the film’s anti-football agenda. In an attempt to redeem its brutally (and quite admirably) anti-American execution, the film attempts to close its narrative through a shoehorned sequence in which Smith is formally congratulated for all his work by high ranking government officials. Regardless of the scene’s historical accuracy, the sequence feels like an attempt to turn a surprisingly authentic analysis of the American reality into a disappointingly synthetic rendering of the American dream.
, CONCUSSION is a weakly written, yet arguably imperative motion picture for a nation so blindly consumed by a sport that is shockingly dangerous. It’s by no means great filmmaking (in fact, it’s not even particularly good), but as an attempt to educate a nation, director Peter Landesman made all the right decisions in keeping the film simple and casting such a universally popular actor. However, simply because it plays its cards the best it can, it doesn’t manage to change the fact that it was dealt a weak hand.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend