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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, September 05, 2016

Movie Review - Concussion

Concussion (2015)
Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mike O'Malley, Eddie Marsan, Hill Harper, Luke Wilson, and David Morse
Directed by Peter Landesman

In better directorial hands, Concussion would've been a great film.  As it stands with second-time director Peter Landesman at the helm, it's simply a good film that can't quite overcome some schlocky sentimental visuals that hamper the important and intriguing true story at its core.

Nigerian-born Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a forensic pathologist for the city of Pittsburgh's coroner's office.  When former Pittsburgh Steelers' football player Mike Webster (David Morse) is found dead in his pick-up truck after a prolonged mental break-down that left him in a disoriented, woeful, and suicidal state, Omalu happens to be the coroner on hand to do the autopsy.  During his work, Omalu discovers that Webster had severe brain damage consistent with repeated blows to the head.  In subsequent years, additional football players follow a similar mental break-down to Webster and Omalu is able to perform the autopsies on these individuals as well, discovering a consistent pattern of brain damage.  Certain of his findings, Omalu decides to write an article in a medical journal, but this sets up a war between the doctor and one of the most profitable organizations on the planet -- the National Football League -- a group that, as Omalu's boss Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) says, "owns a day of the week."

Dr. Omalu is a fascinating figure, tremendously smart, well-mannered, and strong, and Will Smith portrays him with much dignity.  While I'm not quite sure he deserved that Oscar nomination that his wife deemed appropriate, Smith is a captivating presence here alongside Gugu Mbatha-Raw who portrays his friend-turned girlfriend-turned wife.  Their scenes together are poignant, albeit a little treacly at times.  That sentimental mushiness comes on too strong accompanied by some generically obvious visual cues from the director that mar the film particularly in its latter half when the tension between Omalu and the higher-ups in the NFL should be at its most enervating.  It's the second half that disappoints the most with the film sometimes shifting to an odd thriller aspect (unknown men following Omalu's wife, threatening phone calls, etc) that simply doesn't fit well with the heavier (and better executed) dramatics of the film's first half.  Still, Concussion works as a film and is worth seeing as it exposes a side of the NFL that they wished to stay hidden for years.

The RyMickey Rating:  B-

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