Skip to main content

God didn’t intend for us to play football.

Concussion
(2015)

(SPOILERS) I rated Kill the Messenger, scripted by Concussion writer-director Peter Landesman, who seems to be magpie-ing his way through a variety conspiracy-related material, expressing either an anti- (Parkland; one would almost think he was trying to be controversial in suggesting JFK’s assassination was purely, solely and entirely down to Lee Harvey Oswald) or pro- (Messenger, the upcoming Felt, where he goes to the well already partially explored in All the President’s Men, by throwing a light on Deep Throat). Here he covers pathologist Dr Bennet Omalu’s diagnosis of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in NFL football players, and he’s aided by sterling work from a fine cast. Unfortunately, as both director and writer he rather lets the side down.


In terms of pluses, Will Smith offers an impressively immersive turn as the Nigerian-born Omalu, not so much because there’s anything particularly astonishing about the emotional journey (and the requisite love story with Gugu Mbatha-Raw is laborious Hollywood gloss, however much it may be based on fact), but because he abandons the usual Smith crutches of showboating charm and irrepressible charisma. It’s also just plain rewarding to see Smith rising to the challenge of peers who up his game, notably Alec Baldwin as the conscience-stricken former physician for the Pennsylvania Steelers and the ever-wonderful Albert Brooks as Omalu’s mentor. There’s a lovely little cameo from Eddie Marsan, and David Morse is strong as the former centre star whose suicide invites Omalu’s suspicions of something seriously awry with a game that habitually inflicts enormous damage on the brains of its players.


Omalu’s a real straight arrow, and a corpse whisperer (infuriating perhaps the most overtly hissable character in the movie, co-worker Mike O’Malley) who puts his money where his mouth is by funding vital tests himself. With his religious convictions, it’s perhaps surprising Concussion wasn’t sold to the faith-based crowd. Although, its negligible box office generally suggests a difficult movie for the real religious faithful, American Football fans themselves. And I’m suspect there’s enough crossover in competing fervours for it to be a problem case generally.


Landesman gets the conspiracy play down pat, aside from an obligatory, pedestrian “thriller” sequence in which pregnant Mbatha-Raw is pursued by persons unknown. The one-man-against-the-system nature of the case is solid movie material, from the dismissiveness of Omalu’s findings to the attempts by the NFL to whitewash the results of its nominally open, cards-on-the-table investigations, to the FBI bringing charges (eventually dropped) against Brooks’ character (although the timeline for this appears to have been jiggled in the picture’s favour to suggest a more express closing of ranks by the various powers-that-be).


Unfortunately, the director comes up looking rather crude and basic in other areas. An opening scene introducing Omalu’s diligence in a court case is borderline inept, as Landesman entirely distracts from the testimony by jumping around the delivery and intercutting random close-ups. It’s an attempt to underline the man’s attention to detail. but he succeeds only in kyboshing the intended representation of Omalu as a force to be reckoned with.


There are also many scenes in which the doctor needs a pep talk, stating that he doesn’t understand why people would behave this way (cover things up, not want to hear the truth), and being told the cynical reality, and that what he is doing is worthy. The most misjudged element is the “We’ve got another one” progression of the condition, though, which Landesman depicts as a virus on the loose; players break down, threaten their families or blow the brains out as punctuation points for Omalu’s dawning diligence. It’s histrionic, unfortunately, and it would have been better to entirely avoid this aspect, except as reported speech, than handling it in such a clumsy fashion.


Concussion would survive much better without these clichés, but Landesman seems intent on beating the viewer about the head to the point where any suggestion of subtlety and underplaying is lost. At one point a character draws an analogy between the denial of the NFL and that of the tobacco companies concerning the dangers of cigarettes, and a comparison might also be drawn between Concussion and Michael Mann’s big tobacco whistle-blower film The Insider. Landesman seems intent on tackling the kind of subject matter thoroughbred filmmakers like Mann and Oliver Stone have run with to great acclaim. Unfortunately, so far, he’s only revealed himself to be in the little leagues.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

Ours is the richest banking house in Europe, and we’re still being kicked.

The House of Rothschild (1934) (SPOILERS) Fox’s Rothschild family propaganda pic does a pretty good job presenting the clan as poor, maligned, oppressed Jews who fought back in the only way available to them: making money, lots of lovely money! Indeed, it occurred to me watching The House of Rothschild , that for all its inclusion of a rotter of a Nazi stand-in (played by Boris Karloff), Hitler must have just loved the movie, as it’s essentially paying the family the compliment of being very very good at doing their very best to make money from everyone left, right and centre. It’s thus unsurprising to learn that a scene was used in the anti-Semitic (you might guess as much from the title) The Eternal Jew .

No, I ain’t a good man. I ain’t the worst either.

A Perfect World (1993) (SPOILERS) It’s easy to assume, retrospectively, that Clint’s career renaissance continued uninterrupted from Unforgiven to, pretty much, now, with his workhorse output ensuring he was never more than a movie away from another success. The nineties weren’t such a sure thing, though. Follow-up In the Line of Fire , a (by then) very rare actor-for-hire gig, made him seem like a new-found sexagenarian box office draw, having last mustered a dependably keen audience response as far back as 1986 and Heartbreak Ridge . But at home, at least, only The Bridges of Madison County – which he took over as director at a late stage, having already agreed to star – and the not-inexpensive Space Cowboys really scored before his real feted streak began with Mystic River. However, there was another movie in there that did strong business. Just not in the US: A Perfect World .