Sunday, January 3, 2016

Review: Concussion

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Peter Landesman's "Concussion," based on a 2009 magazine article, is a fairly straightforward whistle blower drama that features a solid performance that could revive Will Smith's career, which had become bogged down in big budget star vehicles.

Here, he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a good-hearted forensic pathologist who, while working in Pittsburgh for the coroner's office, discovered CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), an injury that he noticed in deceased professional football players that had been caused by years of blunt force against the players' heads.

Omalu is a man who truly believes in the American Dream and, as he tells Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the young African woman whom he agrees to sponsor, he is surprised when men in power take exception to his discovery and attempt to silence him. Those men would, naturally, be representatives for the NFL, whom this film suggests attempted to cover up CTE, which they feared would get in the way of their bottom line.

Similar to other films of this sort, the corporation does all it can to bring down the little guy who is waging a righteous war against it. They stalk his wife, attempt to discredit his work, scare him with immigration issues and, in one of the more extreme moves, try to bring up federal charges against his employer, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).

But Omalu has several on his team, including Mbatha-Raw, who becomes a romantic interest, Brooks' Wecht and Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), who had previously treated NFL players and understands not only why Omalu must push forward with his research, but also how the football league will react to the findings.

So, while "Concussion" doesn't exactly tell us anything we don't already know, it's a good star vehicle for Smith, who gives a very good and subtle performance as Omalu. Although Smith's biggest successes have been blockbusters such as the "Men in Black" pictures and "Independence Day," he frequently shines when given meatier roles, including his work as Muhammad Ali and in "Six Degrees of Separation."

And considering that much of the film involves Omalu and company looking at slides through microscopes, while actual football action is few and far between, "Concussion" is fairly suspenseful and engaging. Although it uses a familiar formula to tell its story, the professionalism on display and Smith's strong work carry it across the finish line.

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