By: Gary Murray
Starring: Will Smith, Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin
Written and directed: by Peter Landerman
Running time: 123 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Selig Film Rating: FULL PRICE
Will Smith was the biggest movie star for over a decade. Between Men In Black and Independence Day, there was no person in Hollywood that could bring in one hundred million in the box office. But lately, the pickings have been a bit thin. After Earth, Hancock and Focus didn’t set any kind of records. His new film Concussion wants to buck that recent trend.
The film is about Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith). As the film opens in Pittsburg, the good doctor is testifying at a trial. It is a charming way to cite his credentials without going rote. His current job is in the Pittsburg morgue. He is a meticulous examiner who believes in his chosen task.
We also see a former Steelers player Mike Webster (David Morse) struggling with his urges. After playing eighteen seasons in the NFL, the man has lost a firm grip on his life. Eventually he kills himself. That is where the two meet.
Dr. Omalu decides that he wants to know exactly why a perfectly healthy man could be in such a condition. Out of his own pocket, he pays for the added expense to examine the deeper brain tissues of the football player on his slab. He finds a suspicious link between the hard hits of football and the concussions that happened to the players on the field.
This path leads him to Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), a doctor for the Pittsburg Steelers team. Over the years, the doctor has blown off the worries of the team and held the line of NFL management. But the loss of Mike hits him hard. They were both involved with the sport for a long time and have a deep connection.
The film follows both the political world of professional sports and the basic human denial that goes with confronting new information. Every time the doctors make one step forward, it seems that they are pushed back a few yards. Everyone is driven by their point of view almost to the point of being zealous. Those who have followed sports news know the eventual outcome but it is the process that it the climax.
This is the best performance of Will Smith’s career and his best shot to win the Oscar. Not for a moment does anyone question that this is a character and not just Will Smith being Will Smith. After a few fails in the last few years, this work should bring a slight smile to the masses who attend movies.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is the wife but she makes the most of the secondary role. She comes across as a wounded person but at the same time, a trying soul. She struggles to understand this massive country and try to adapt to her cross-culture husband. End the end; she becomes the purpose behind the good doctor’s fight.
Albert Brooks has a small role as the boss but he plays it to an astonishing degree. He delivers cutting, funny lines that feel completely in his character. This is another feather in the plume of his acting cap.
The film is directed and written Peter Landerman and he does a solid job with what should be a slanted material. A football doctor, medical examiners and NFL management does not meld well for an exciting adventure but Peter Landerman keeps a light touch on the material. By doing a laser focus on the characters, he accomplishes what few could have done. He makes the world outside the game of football just as exciting as the play on the field.
Concussion is a good film with a great performance in the leading actor category. But the problem is that it is just not a great film. While I found it captivating, others will find it a bit tedious and too long of a last third. If you want to see the background of the business of sport, this is a film for the curious.