I am shocked and confused by how little respect was paid to Peter Landesman’s confident, important, and all together sad true life story Concussion, which documents the mostly futile attempts by the brilliant Dr. Bennet Omalu to wake the NFL up to a massive health issue, played in a nearly career topping performance by Will Smith (nice to have you back!), replete with flawless accent, who was completely and utterly robbed of an Oscar nomination last year. But, this movie was always, unfortunately, going to face an uphill battle with audiences; like Michael Mann’s The Insider, people don’t want to hear that one of their favorite things in life is a potential killer. But the facts cannot be disputed. If you play professional football, you have a 28% chance of coming down with the disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). This is not a figure made up out of thin air – this is a figure backed up by real life incidents and statistics and deaths that might otherwise have been prevented had the reasons behind them not been swept under the rug. William Goldenberg’s fluid editing keeps the film very focused for a tight two hours, with Smith displaying huge amounts of sympathy and courage, in what has to be one of his most compelling screen performances.
Shot with silky smooth elegance by the continually underrated and extremely versatile cinematographer Salvatore Totino (Any Given Sunday, Everest, Changing Lanes), who captured the rusty Pittsburgh locales with gritty realism, Concussion remains engrossing from the very first shot to the depressing-truth closing image. Like last year’s Spotlight, this is a movie that sticks with the facts, and because of that, contains a sense of virtue and relevance that’s lacking in most studio productions. The NFL was wise to be nervous about this film. But at the end of the day, as Landesman’s well-observed screenplay points out, the NFL, like many massive corporations, doesn’t care about anything else other than making money, even at the expense of people’s health and quality of life. They hired the same group of lawyers who represented “The Big Seven” tobacco companies back when their destructive product was put under the legal microscope. David Morse is exceptional (when’s he not?) in a small but crucial supporting performance, and the stunner Gugu Mbatha-Raw is de-glammed after her striking and poignant turn in the exceedingly undervalued Beyond the Lights, providing a sensitive portrayal of a woman drawn to the magnetism of Omalu, even when knowing he was facing an uphill battle. Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin are both terrific in sharply-etched supporting roles. James Newton Howard’s score is potentially too insistent upon itself, but is nonetheless powerfully composed. Produced by Ridley Scott.
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Review by Nick Clement