DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman • PRO: Elizabeth Cantillon, Giannina Facio-Scott, Ridley Scott, Larry Shuman, David Wolthoff • DOP: Salvatore Totino • ED: William Goldenberg • DES: David Crank • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin
The best way to describe Concussion is well intentioned. Will Smith plays the Nigerian-American physician Dr Bennet Omalu, the man who brought the link between the deaths of several former NFL players and the severe neurological condition ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ (or CTE) to the attention of the world. However, it turns out convincing a billion dollar corporation like the NFL to acknowledge that their product is inherently dangerous to their money-making machines (I mean, players) ain’t a walk in the park.
On paper it sounds like an interesting story, even an important one, and indeed it is. The problem is that this film is dull. Dull, dull, dull. Director Peter Landesman never succeeds in building the tension or drama to a satisfactory level, leaving the whole experience decisively underwhelming. This, combined with some questionable stylistic choices, means the films message about player’s safety over profit is boiled down to a bland by-the-numbers sports flick.
The strongest element of the film is its actors’ performances. Smith has previously struggled in other films to dump his real-life movie-star persona in favour of letting his character take-over and shine through. Thankfully, here this is not the case. Smith’s turn as Dr Omalu is both thoughtful and three-dimensional. In particular, his accent is convincing from the get go and remains consistent throughout the film. However, at times it is clear that the film is blatantly going out if its way to present Omalu as saint-like as possible, threatening to reduce him to a boring caricature. Luckily the subtleties of Smith’s performance prevent this from happening, but just. Baldwin, Brooks, and Mbatha-Raw are also quite watchable, though the romance subplot between Omalu and Mbatha-Raw’s character is sort of wedged in and could have done with a little bit more time dedicated to it.
Suffice to say that the problems with this film lie entirely within the director’s hands. Visually, the film is nothing interesting. Certain shots seem awkward and at a strange angle, others are too dark to determine exactly what’s happening on screen. The pacing of the film is also slightly off, taking too long to jump into the main plot then racing through the climax. Events stop and start and Landesman crams the slower moments with unnecessary scenes (namely, a car chase involving Omalu’s wife) in an attempt to create tension, but it doesn’t work. One of the more annoying aspects of the film is the musical soundtrack. The more quiet scenes often lose their impact due to the warbling of a nasally, guitar-stroking musician. If you couldn’t make out what emotions the scene unfolding on screen was supposed to stir in you, then no fear! The lyrics playing overhead will tell you exactly how to feel. Needless to say, this becomes tedious and fast.
Overall, the film fails to hit the right notes. The drama and emotion is watered down to a degree that makes it difficult to really care. Even Smith’s solid performance cannot salvage this dullfest, and when someone as charismatic as Will Smith can’t inject energy into a film, you know it’s bad. To give the film some credit, it does care about what it has to say- it just doesn’t say it very well.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Concussion is released 12th February 2016