Will Smith goes shopping for a third Oscar nom. It might not happen.
CONCUSSION (Peter Landesman). 120 minutes. Opens December 25. For venues and times, see movies.nowtoronto.com. Rating: NN
Concussion is one of the year’s most dour inspirational pictures.
Peter Landesman’s follow-up to his historical drama Parkland casts Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Pittsburgh neuropathologist who forced the NFL to acknowledge and act on the problem of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain-destroying impact-based injury that drives veteran football players to madness and suicide.
The story is interesting and potentially thrilling: imagine a forensic version of The Insider, with corporate interests pushing back against a heroic truth-teller. But Landesman delivers the least compelling version imaginable, a tony drama in which the virtuous protagonist is repeatedly told how great and noble he is while shady guys in suits keep denying the truth.
Landesman adds an extra layer of pandering, playing up how the Nigerian-born Christian Omalu believes in the American dream so profoundly that he won’t stop telling people about it. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but as the character’s sole trait it gets to be a bit much.)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw is wasted as Prema Mutiso, the woman Omalu marries. In fact, of the entire cast, only Alec Baldwin manages to spark the picture to life with one unexpected line reading. Good for him.
Slim to none, despite Smith’s Golden Globe nomination, although there might be a makeup nod if the Academy’s feeling generous. The work required to transform David Morse into doomed Steelers centre Mike Webster is pretty impressive.