Review: Concussion

will-smith-concussion

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.

Ellen Murray

 12A (See IFCO for details)

 122 minutes

Concussion is released 12th February 2016

Concussion – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Parkland

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DIR/WRI: Peter Landesman  PRO: Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Matt Jackson, Bill Paxton, Nigel Sinclair  DOP: Barry Ackroyd  ED: Markus Czyzewski, DES: Bruce Curtis, Leo Trombetta  MUS: James Newton Howard CAST: Zac Efron, Tom Welling, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Giamatti

Parkland appears 50 years after President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. It takes its title from the hospital where both JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald were taken for treatment after they were shot. There are some points of interest, but they’re limited.

 

Writer-director Peter Landesman makes his feature film debut. His script draws on Vincent Bugliosi’s 2007 book Reclaiming History, which documents all aspects of the assassination and runs to over 1,600 pages (that’s 1.5 million words!). The book’s length reflects the array of material that has been published about JFK, ranging from conspiracy theories to eyewitness accounts. Its scope presents quite the challenge to a filmmaker: what can be said that hasn’t been said already? Oliver Stone dazzled audiences in 1991 with his three-hour epic JFK; those expecting a conspiratorial thriller in Parkland shouldn’t hold their breath.

 

Landesman’s short film plays more like a TV drama, drawing on generic detective and medical dramas. Comedian Ernie Kovacs quipped that 1950s television was a medium because it was neither rare nor well done. Landesman’s treatment unfortunately feels more like the latter. He avoids the conspiracy theories, eschews examining President Kennedy’s politics or his legacy, and focuses instead on the more “human interest” aspects: the medical response at the hospital, Abraham Zapruder’s famous 8 mm recording, the investigations commenced by the FBI and the Secret Service, and the reactions of Oswald’s mother and brother Robert.

 

Parkland attempts to inject some interest into events that are really sideshows. When the President died in the hospital, what happened next? A coffin was required, the priest administered the last rites, and there was some dispute between the federal and state agents as to whether an autopsy should be carried out in Dallas. How appealing viewers find these aspects will determine how much they enjoy the film. The period detail, sets and costumes are good, the production budget well spent, but the film still feels lacking when it ends.

 

Its point remains elusive. A dramatic presentation should have some insight into the human condition, people’s emotional involvement in events.  The film’s multi-narrative approach makes this difficult. It introduces myriad characters, rather like listing names for photographs in a book. The players often have little to do other than looked horrified or sad. There is no drama. The filmmakers look for it in the wrong places. Finding space in an aircraft for a coffin was hardly the day’s most pressing problem.

 

Where there is tension, the film misses the mark. It falls into shouty melodrama that lacks conviction. Jackie’s grief is sidelined: she disappears midway during the film. James Badge Dale, playing Robert Oswald, can’t convey his character’s conflict between love for his brother and the damage Oswald’s involvement brings on their family. His unaffected blue eyes fail to register any sign of torment. Celebrated actors contribute little: Billy Bob Thornton, as secret agent Forrest Sorrel, Jackie Weaver, as Oswald’s mother, and top-billed Zac Efron, as Dr Carrico, who treats President Kennedy, don’t make much of an impression in their small parts.

 

Paul Giamatti, playing Zapruder has fleeting good moments, but Landesman mishandles them. Poor integration of live action and archive footage jars early in the film , when Giamatti appears alone on-screen in what must have been a chaotic scene, 30 yards from the motorcade. Later, Landesman cuts pointlessly from different shots of Zapruder when he’s at home with his wife. The use of unconventional angles and jumpy cutting just serve as a pointless effort to give dull material some edge.

 

Zapruder’s story, that of the “world’s most famous home video”, might have resonated in an interesting way today, when ordinary people can easily record images of protests and political violence on their phones. The print media, Life magazine, the New York Times and others, hound Zapruder for use of the disturbing images he captured, and he struggles with his responsibility for such powerful pictures.The Kennedy assassination was a major media event, and Walter Cronkite’s and other broadcasters’ recurrent commentary, along with TV news footage, play a prominent role in the film, tying the various elements together. TV news came of age and demonstrated the medium’s capabilities, and the film reflects the shift.

 

There are worse films than Parkland, but its weak handling and glib dramatic interest make it unappealing as a cinematic attraction. It might make for a passable TV programme.

Disappointing.

John Moran

12A  (See IFCO for details)

93 mins

Parkland is released on 22nd November 2013

Parkland – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgPjt_BRLvY

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