Editor’s Note: Concussion is currently in wide release.
Bad movies happen. It’s an inevitability like the sun rising or Christmas decorations showing up before Thanksgiving. I used to get annoyed when I ended up seeing a mediocre to bad film. Unless you are meticulously curating all of the films that you take in, you simply cannot avoid them and as is to be expected, as the number of films that you see rises, so does the number of bad ones. However, there are those films that still pester me, that still piss me off in their inherent awfulness. They are the films that should be good, that have the parts for something worthwhile and then go on to fully squander the gifts at their feet. Concussion is one of those films.
Concussion is so half-assed in its attempt to be many things that ultimately it’s a big pile of nothing.
First, let’s get something straight, regardless of the level of fandom you may have for football, only the blind can call it a safe sport. We all see it as a dangerous game and even those that celebrate its violence as a necessary part are forced to at least pay some lip service to its proclivity for medical hardship. It’s just that we’ve been lying to ourselves for so long, that a Sunday full of smashing mounds of muscle is commonplace. That’s why Concussion has such an important role to play. This was supposed to be the film that made the masses take note. It was supposed to be controversial, it was supposed to be eye opening, it was supposed to make you think, but more than anything else, this was supposed to be the film that scared the NFL. Because knowledge is scary and Concussion was supposed to be a treasure trove of information. Instead Concussion just limps out, dumb and empty.
“That’s all great and all, Derek,” you mutter to me, annoyed by my perceived film snobbery, “but who’s to blame? Why is this movie such a turd?” Well hold on just there, I never called Concussion a turd. That is far too simplistic. Concussion is lazy and irresponsible filmmaking. Writer-director Peter Landesman admittedly bit off a big chunk when he took on this job. Yes, he had to tell the tale of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian American pathologist that had the guts to stand up to the NFL. But he also had to inform us, the viewers, of just how bad this all is. And of course this is a film, coming out at Christmas of all times, so the people providing the money definitely want it to be entertaining. It’s a mountain of a task to tell a respectful story that is equal parts informative and entertaining.
Unfortunately, Landesman must have seen this mountain as far too difficult to climb. He pulls one of the biggest cop outs possible in a film of this magnitude and manages to shirk all of his duties as a storyteller. There is a reason why the NFL isn’t more scared of this movie and it’s because it isn’t really about them. Rather than make something eye-opening or ground breaking to any degree, Landesman has made an inconsequential piece of Oscar bait fluff. He trades in simplistic romance, two-dimensional character development, and faux tension. Concussion is so half-assed in its attempt to be many things that ultimately it’s a big pile of nothing.
The script is little more than a string of monologues that in their very writing imbue nothing but a sense of entitlement.
Anyone that has seen the trailer for the film had to have seen this coming. But walking in on blind faith alone is somewhat understandable. The cast of the film, outside of Alec Baldwin doing his best Foghorn Leghorn whenever he can be bothered to remember that his character is from Louisiana, is quite talented. Nevertheless, for as great as Will Smith, Albert Brooks, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw can be, when shackled to a script that is written with the delicacy of a sledgehammer they end up seeming just as shallow. In the absence of strong leadership, the whole company looks disjointed, unappealing, and just a bit bored.
That isn’t to say that Concussion completely fails to communicate the actual problem being had by NFL players. The viewer leaves with at least some awareness that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is not only very real but something deserving of far more attention. But you don’t leave the film energized, primed for action, or even angry. Rather you are left exhausted by the tiresome and lethargic storytelling you just endured. The script is little more than a string of monologues that in their very writing imbue nothing but a sense of entitlement. Most of the filmmaking pieces are just fine, the cinematography, the acting, and even the score. And yes, at this time of year, films of this caliber, that walk with the pompous expectation of awards despite no demonstrable reason why, are a bit expected. But that doesn’t excuse just how irresponsible that mentality is to this very subject. Concussion had to be good, it had to scare us, and it should have scared the NFL. Instead it just sits there idly in a bed of clichés and manufactured tension. Likely, Concussion will drift away forgotten by any that saw it, and for that, those behind it should be ashamed.
Concussion had to be good, it had to scare us, and it should have scared the NFL. Instead it just sits there idly in a bed of clichés and manufactured tension. Likely, Concussion will drift away forgotten by any that saw it, and for that, those behind it should be ashamed.