Cinema Dispatch: Concussion


Concussion and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures

Directed by Peter Landesman

Mr. Fourth of July is back with his latest attempt to win that Oscar after Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness, and 7 Pounds didn’t do a damn thing for him.  Well at least this one is a story that’s still fresh in people’s mind as it explores the events that led up to the NFL being in hot water over the dangers of head injuries and the consequences of not getting these issues treated in their former players.  Does William Smith Jr finally have the movie that will get him an Academy Award that he can shove in Leonardo DiCaprio’s face, or does the search continue for Will to find something that will prove once and for all what a great actor he is?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) who happens to be on duty at a Pittsburg morgue the day that a former NFL player is found dead after long bouts of mental illness and medical problems.  During the autopsy, Omalu discovers some irregularities that lead to him eventually discovering a hereto unknown disease known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that is caused by repeated blows to the head which is something that happens quite frequently to NFL players.  Clearly this needs to be explored further as it’s clear that other older players begin to exhibit extreme mental issues, but the NFL instead decides to bury the guys work and deny it incessantly.  Omalu though continues to push for more research and for the NFL to acknowledge the diseases existence, but to little avail at least at first.  Along his journey to get the truth out there, he starts to pursue a romantic relationship with a fellow churchgoer (Prema Mutiso played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and eventually meets a former NFL doctor (Julian Bailes played by Alec Bladwin) who knows first-hand what it’s like to see former players’ minds deteriorate.  With support from the medical community and his girlfriend along with the insider knowledge of Dr. Bailes, will Dr. Omalu get his way and save hundreds of people in the process, or is this a task too herculean for any one man to accomplish?

“And the Oscar goes to… Will Smith.  I’ll get up looking shocked, kiss Jada on the cheek, and lightly job down there.  Gotta make sure to thank all my kids, thrown in a joke here and there…”

This movie is like the launching of a space shuttle because it’s calculated like a mother fucker!  I don’t think I’ve seen a movie try this hard to be Oscar bait at the detriment of everything else since maybe The King’s Speech which I found to be pretty insufferable for the most part.  This though?  This is even LESS interesting; not because the subject matter lacks weight, but because everything in this from the script to the film making sucks all the juiciness out of the material so that it can remain sterile and classy.  In doing so, they made a movie that has hardly any flavor and even less reason to exist.

“We’re at this level.  If we go ANY higher, the flaws are gonna glare that much brighter, so we need to keep this safe and passable.  You got that?”

There’s so little excitement, fear, humor, sorrow, or intrigue in here that’s it’s almost kind of insulting to the story that they are trying to tell and those that it is based on.  People are dying all over the place in this movie, yet we barely focus on any of them and they’re more like dramatic McGuffins so that the plot can move forward in some way.  Hell, the death of one of the football players is used simply for dramatic irony and as the linchpin for the NFL to start taking the doctor seriously!  Do we know anything about the guy?  Not really.  We only saw him in one (maybe two) scenes prior to this, so his death means very little other than how it affects the main character.  Instead of focusing on any of the people who are actually getting hurt and killed, we focus on Dr. Bennet Omalu who I’m sure is a great guy and a brilliant scientist, but is a very boring person to watch on screen.  The only gimmick they seem to have for the guy is that he’s from another country and therefore is easily baffled by things like… I don’t know; consequences?  I mean it’s one thing to be shocked by how big the NFL is and how other people act about it, but to be shocked that big corporations don’t take responsibility for their actions feels a bit disingenuous and seems to be pushing naiveté off as if it were a virtue.  Either that or I guess I’m part of the problem and should strive to be more naïve about how big companies react when called out on their terrible business practices.  Whenever he gets to someone who’s at least somewhat involved with the NFL, he’s taken aback and FLABBERGASTED to find out that they have a laundry list of excuses for why they don’t support his research, and you’d think by the third or fourth time someone sees this happen (on top of said organization taking some less than kosher actions against them already) that the guy would wise up a bit or at least not look so heartbroken.

“TELL THE TRUTH!!”     “Okay… what do we do AFTER that?”     “TELL THE TRUTH!!!!!”     “Do you at least have a way to test for this before the person dies or should we just assume EVERYONE is going to get this?”     “TELL THE TRUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

It’s weird how the movie puts SO MUCH focus on this guy, yet being shackled to the true story means that there’s not much for him to do.  He discovers a disease and writes an article about it (along with like five other people) and then the NFL tries to bury his work.  That’s it!  They call him a quack and… no that’s it.  They invite him to a conference and then don’t let him speak, so I guess that’s… rude.  Honestly, there are only two points in this where his life is SEVERELY affected, yet the movie can’t even say for certainty if the NFL had anything to do with it.  His boss gest reamed by the FBI, yet the movie is not willing to conclusively say the NFL sicced them on the guy, and then her wife has a miscarriage which I THINK the movie was trying to imply was the NFL’s fault… maybe.  The scene prior to the miscarriage is her being followed by a car except when she make a turn the car keeps going… which means she wasn’t being followed and was just paranoid.  I guess you could infer that being stressed out about the NFL potentially doing something really drastic was putting stress on the pregnancy, but I never got the sense that the NFL was ever going to go even REMOTELY that far (which is also why I have a hard time buying the FBI scene) and to have such a non-committal stance seems like a very unscrupulous move by the film; like a reporter throwing out random questions with no basis in reality because asking the question is enough to cause damage.

Uh oh!  There’s a car there!  Does it have NFL plates?  Hey, I’m just asking questions!!

Aside from the uninteresting main character and the lack of genuine suspense, the movie is just fucking corny.  There’s this one guy who was AMAZING in this who played the dickhead doctor working at the same morgue Will Smith did (Daniel Sullivan played by Mike O’Malley), and he his shtick was to get really upset over nothing, over and over again.  Seriously, this is the kind of office creep who got mad at Will Smith for talking to the dead bodies before performing autopsies.  WHY!?  WHO THE FUCK IS IT HURTING THAT HIS BELIEF SYSTEM MEANS HE FEELS THE NEED TO SAY PARTING WORDS TO THE DEAD!?  WHO GETS UPSET AT THAT SHIT!?  The guy even gets upset when the guy orders tests and pays for them himself.  He’s not even putting it on his expenses, and yet killjoy over here has to throw a sneer his way.  Fuck off with this guy’s bullshit!!

“Hey Dan.  Can you get me this guy’s medical history?”     “Oh what, so now I’m your errand boy!?  I DIDN’T GO TO MED SCHOOL TO BE A FUCKING GOPHER, SO FUCK YOU!!!”     “Uh… sorry man.  Gracie, can you get it?”     “Sure thing.”

Oh, but the corniness doesn’t stop there!  The romance between Dr. Omalu and Prema is completely chaste and lacks any sort of sizzle or passion to instead be mildly pleasant.  I honestly don’t know what they see in each other except that they go to the same church and he can help her get settled in the US.  Again, these are boring people falling in love which means their courtship can’t get too risqué which MIGHT have been something to liven things up around here.  The crown jewel of corniness though has to go to Albert Brooks as his boss that speaks in nothing but aphorisms and compliments; constantly giving Dr. Omalu advice while also telling him just how super-duper awesome he is.  It wears thin very quickly and yet goes on for the ENTIRE movie.

“You’re a true American hero.  Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.  An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”     “I think he gets it.”

There are some aspects of this that are worth praising. Despite finding his character incredibly boring and uninteresting, Will Smith does a great job playing Dr. Omalu.    His mannerisms and expressions are not really like anything you seen him do before, so Big Willy end up getting completely lost in the performance.  David Morse as well is completely unrecognizable as the slowly fading former star of the Steelers and is the only reason the first quarter of this movie is tolerable.  Alec Baldwin does a good job too, but it’s very clearly Alec Baldwin in the role and his job is mostly comprised of saying trailer lines which isn’t all that dissimilar to the tripe that Albert Brooks had to spew.

“In a world where Football reigns supreme, you come along to shake up the system.  From the people who brought you The Super Bowl and Tim Tebow comes the greatest scandal of all time.  This Christmas, they’ll get what’s coming to them… which is coal in their stocking.”

Also, any time we actually see the football players dealing with their problems, it’s actually pretty interesting.  I mean, I have no idea if this is how people who suffer from this illness actually act (it looks a bit over-the-top) but they’re definitely the scenes that remind you what’s at stake.  It’s not some doctor getting picked on by a rich organization and then moving to a very high paying job with a loving wife and kids; it’s these people whose minds are deteriorating rapidly, becoming a danger to themselves and their families.  Despite how much they made for the NFL, they just can’t get the support needed from them and are dying because of it.  The guy had a rough couple of years, I won’t deny that.  However, compared to everyone else who is suffering and continue to suffer because of what the NFL is denying, it just seems like the movie has its focus in the wrong place.  Alec Baldwin has a really great speech towards the end of the movie when he explained that he has an actually stake in this which is something that Omalu can’t claim to have.  As a former coach, he’s been a part of this organization and this sport for his entire life.  He now has to get up on a soapbox and tell an organization that made him a success that they’re killing their employees, the very people he’s been working with his entire career.  They say to never reference a better movie in the middle of your crappy movie, well I think this one a better movie than the one we ultimately got.

“I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m feeling pretty good right now!  I mean this discovery made my career!  WOO!  High five?”

The movie is disappointing in the same way that The Big Short was where it felt like the focus was not on what was most important.  This movie though does it even worse (it’s not at all an ensemble picture) and it lacks in many of the areas that The Big Short excelled at which kept it a strong film overall.  The story here COULD be interesting, but the way they tell it is not and there’s nothing here that brings the material up.  The cinematography is competent yet bland, the acting is pretty good for the big name stars but lacking from the side characters that just aren’t written very strongly, and there’s just not enough humanity in this to make it feel like it really represents what actually happened.  For a movie about people slowly losing their minds and the one person who comes forward to tell the world about it, there just wasn’t enough impact or power to this story.  It just left me feeling cold and distant which is not what you’d want from a story about fighting the power.  Nothing to see here folks.  Let’s just wait for Suicide Squad.


2.5 out of 5


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Concussion [Blu-ray]

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