Concussion

Year: 2016
Director: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brookes, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Early talk surrounding ‘Concussion’ generated a but of Oscar-buzz, mainly for Will Smith in the leading role. I’m not a huge NFL fan, so that element was always going to be lost on me, and I didn’t particularly see how this story, as tragic as it may be, would develop into an interesting or impressive film. Unfortunately, my concerns were totally justified.

Basically, this is one of those stories (which we see time and time again) in which a righteous but somewhat insignificant man, tries to take on a massive conglomerate and gets punished for having the balls to attack such an institution. Doctor Bennet Omalu (Smith), a talented but eccentric pathologist, finds a link between careers in the NFL and the years of intense damage to the skull which comes with such a profession, and a debilitating mental illness. Of course, the NFL don’t want to hear about this discovery, and fight tooth-and-nail to keep it hidden to protect the sport. But, Omalu is that kind of people’s hero who never stops fighting for what is right.

As much praise as there was for Smith’s performance here, there was also lots of criticism for his dodgy African accent. And let me tell you, it is a pretty embarrassing attempt; it’s basically Will Smith just pretending to be African, and it’s horrendously apparent. Looking past that, his portrayal of Doctor Bennet Omalu is impressive enough; he nails the emotive scenes and does have a certain likeability about him. As for the murmurs of outrage surrounding his “Oscar snub” – mainly from his wife – I don’t think she has a case to be honest. It’s a good performance but it’s far from great, and The Academy were right to leave him out of the nominations. In support we have the very capable Alec Baldwin and Albert Brookes – the latter of whom I am quite a fan of – and both are great in their roles as accomplices to Omalu’s fight for justice. I also have to give a little mention to a lady who I predict is set for big things, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Smith’s on-screen love interest. Her performance here is subtle but impressive, and I look forward to seeing her in ‘Star Wars: Episode VIII’.

The main issue which lets down this film is the pacing. The true story behind it could well have made for a provocative and poignant film, but instead, ‘Concussion’ feels very repetitive and very slow. It’s a lacklustre adaptation of a true story, where seeing mentally ill, troubled men commit suicide hardly evokes any emotion. I know that sounds heartless on my behalf, but the film lacked any sense of authenticity or emotional attachment, just stuttering along telling you “this guy has died now”. Each time a former NFL player dies, Omalu tries to get his discovery noticed, gets told to shut the fuck up and the cycle starts again. In terms of plot and character development, ‘Concussion’ fails miserably.

It’s not that this is a particularly bad film, it’s just pretty dull. I was waiting for something to happen – for a little impetus and a spike in the narrative – but nothing ever came. The film lacks any direction, barely breaks the surface emotionally and is uncomfortable to watch, but not in the good way. It’s uncomfortable because Will Smith doesn’t know what an African accent sounds like; it’s uncomfortable because even the characters fighting for justice don’t seem to care all that much about their cause; and it’s uncomfortable because it’s neither a bad or a good film, ‘Concussion’ is quite simply forgettable and dull, and the real injustice is the poor retelling of a rather important story. Don’t bother watching it, trust me, you’re missing nothing.

Jakob’s rating: 5.6 out of 10
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