“Concussion” is a film that resonates with strength, while struggling to find its way.
There were moments as compelling as any 2015 release, but a lot of times those moments got bogged down in a story that didn’t always stay on point.
Ultimately, it is worth seeing – despite its flaws – thanks largely in part to a strong cast that includes Will Smith.
Smith is as good as he has ever been here playing Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic neuropathologist who made a first discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in the early 2000s after the death of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (David Morse).
Omalu linked CTE to football-related brain trauma, ultimately challenging the NFL’s safety procedures. “Concussion” shows how Omalu fought to bring out the truth about head injuries, even as the NFL tried to label him a quack and get his findings dismissed.
When “Concussion” is at its best is when we are put in the trenches of the battle between Omalu and the NFL. Writer/director Peter Landesman tackled the same sort of material in his previous penned script “Kill the Messenger” and has a nice eye for handling the paranoia of the little man fighting a big entity.
In these scenes you get Smith’s great work as well as Alec Baldwin in a nice role as a former NFL team physician who joins Omalu’s cause and the great Albert Brooks as Omalu’s mentor.
“Concussion” doesn’t hold back in its portrait of the NFL, which came as a welcome surprise. It’s a film that shows the dangers of football in a very straightforward manner.
If “Concussion” stayed within those lines it could have been much stronger, but there is too much time devoted to Omalu’s romance with his future wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). A lot of those scenes feel more like filler than advancing the story, giving the film an uneven pacing.
If Landesman the director could have trimmed about 15 minutes off Landesman the writer’s script, “Concussion” could have been something even better than it is now.
Also in theaters
Another film opening this week based on a true story, “The Big Short” (A), fares much better – a crisp examination of big-bank greed that is both darkly comic and frightening.
“The Big Short” follows four high-finance outsiders (including Steve Carell and Christian Bale) who predicted the credit and housing bubble collapse of the mid-2000s and used the knowledge to expose the system, while also profiting from the collapse.
The film was directed by Will Ferrell’s comedy partner Adam McKay, whose previous credits include the “Anchorman” films, “Step Brothers” and “Talladega Nights.” McKay might not be the first person you’d think to tackle this project, but he brings a unique vision that brings life to a film that mostly consists of people explaining the financial market.
McKay respects the material, but also provides a bit of comic edge to the proceedings – including a running bit where celebrities like Margot Robbie and Selena Gomez help to explain complex financial terms in a way the audience can understand. It’s part of a calculated risk from McKay to tear down the fourth wall, allowing the characters to bring the audience into their world even more.
Carell and Bale both shine in roles that make great use of their versatility, but the supporting cast also includes great work from Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt in what amounts to a glorified cameo as a paranoid former investor.
It all adds up to a film that was both informative and entertaining – a peak behind the financial curtain that left me a little uneasy about exactly how unstable Wall Street really is.
“The Big Short” is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity and is now playing at the Regal Bowling Green Stadium 10.