Will Smith stars in Concussion, a dramatic thriller based on the incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known. Omalu's emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful – and beloved – institutions in the world.
If for nothing else, ‘Concussion’ offers a unique take on a very familiar and often much too predictable genre. And yet, the plot, based on a 2009 GQ article by Jeanne Marie Laskas, nonetheless follows the standard sports drama template, performing many of the same routines and well-known maneuvers, and largely follows the customary plan of action. The quarterback in this scenario is Will Smith as Dr. Bennett Omalu, and he faces a very tough opponent, with possibly the best defensive line ever in the megagiant National Football League. For the most part, Smith leads his team of supporters, colleagues and allies to a minor victory against the team favored to win, as would be expected. And occasionally, the plays manage to impress and arouse a couple of cheer-worthy moments, but when coming to the final minutes, the overall game was played safe, never really taking any chances or risks, failing to surprise spectators and leave them with some sense of accomplishment. It’s a win in the end, but it’s ultimately a small one, not the championship.
The unique aspect the script, written and directed by Peter Landesman, brings to the genre is in taking the point of view of an outsider who has no emotional investment in the game. Not the standpoint of an entire team, a particular player or from the vantage point of a fan, but the story comes from the viewpoint of a man who doesn’t care for it and makes clear he doesn’t understand the public’s interest. Thus, Dr. Omalu is essentially an objective observer facing the toughest challenge of his life, against one of America’s most intimidating adversaries, which is precisely the sports drama blueprint. The Nigerian forensic pathologist doesn’t voluntarily and bravely meet the opposition in the same manner as someone who’s trained and practiced for it. Frankly, he just kind of stumbled upon a discovery that threatened the larger, more powerful organization simply because the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse) arrived during his shift. And as the filmmakers like to point out, almost to the point of becoming distractingly annoying, it’s Omalu’s objectivity that led to the discovery of a disorder he called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Ironically, this perspective is arguably the film’s downfall, because Omula’s foreignness is pushed with such frequency and prevalence that it begins to almost take on the feel of a hidden agenda, which obviously is not that well hidden when it’s this easy to point out. In fact, it is blatantly called out a couple times in scenes with Dr. Julian Bailes, played by Alec Baldwin with a strange coldness and indifference that’ll leave viewers uncertain of his motives, and much of that skepticism comes from Bailes being the former Steelers doctor who knowingly kept the health of players underwraps. Driving this point even further, hammering it into the heads of audiences perhaps as a way to leave them feeling similar effects of CTE, Hill Harper and Luke Wilson are brought in as Christopher Jones and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. They discredit Omula’s findings as the result of either an overzealous quack, one who’s not technically a medical doctor in the traditional sense or explicitly referring to his immigration status, as one football fan vehemently uses as a tool of insult.
To perhaps preemptively thwart this understanding of ‘Concussion,’ or possibly what the filmmakers would argue to be an misunderstanding, Landesman, whose other film credits include ‘Parkland’ and ‘Kill the Messenger,’ introduces audiences to Omula in the opening minutes inside a courtroom drama where he lists his various credentials. The faces of those listening to his impressive background are basically the same reaction some viewers are likely to have, but in also doing this, Landesman reveals just how scripted, intentional and ultimately fabricated the production is. There is little about this film which feels organic and evolving naturally from a genuinely human place, including Smith’s performance, which frankly, seems forced and artificial. As if calling attention to itself that the former rap artist, TV star and action-movie hero knows how to act. This is the typical David and Goliath story, except this giant is only assumed mighty, fearful foe while the underdog is made to wear a sign reminding audiences of his smallness. A rock has been thrown, but there is no actual battle to witness.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment brings 'Concussion' to Blu-ray with a flyer for a Digital HD Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue eco-vortex case, and at startup, the disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music.
The sports drama debuts on Blu-ray with a fantastic, near-reference quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that remains true to the original photographic choices by the filmmakers. The transfer is squeaky clean and generally spotless, but it still comes with that somewhat unattractive digital appearance, lacking the sort of grain texture that would give the movie some character. It’s not necessarily the soap-opera effect that's often distracting, but it’s very smooth and sterile, which might turn off some viewers. Then there’s the fact that Salvatore Totino's cinematography is noticeably restrained, shooting with a gray, overcast tone that makes everything gloomy and somewhat lifeless.
Contrast is heavily subdued, contributing to the dreary look that interestingly complements the tragic, somber subject matter, but whites are nonetheless brilliant and crisp. Blacks are inky rich and pure with deep penetrating shadows that don't obscure the finer details. Being muted and controlled, however, the picture, at times, feels flat in many daylight exteriors, but nighttime sequences are quite stunning. Thankfully, colors are not affected by the intentional look and feel, and the overall palette is full of life with an energetic pop. Flesh tones appear natural and revealing throughout.
Presented in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio, the presentation arrives with sharp details and excellent clarity. Fine lines and objects are distinct and crystal-clear in every scene. Whether the action is taking place in poorly-lit interiors or outside with the little bit of sunshine available, the lettering on books, papers and on signs hanging on the side of buildings in the distance are plainly visible. Worth mentioning are the couple negligible instances of aliasing and a tad of posterization in some spots, but overall, the high-def presentation is noteworthy and sure to please fans everywhere.
On the audio side of things, the movie licks its wounds and goes for the win with an excellent DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, which at first, might some seem as though it wouldn’t offer much for a drama. But the designers did a surprisingly admirable job, bringing the movie alive and keeping viewers engaged. Admittedly, the track does not utilize the entire soundscape, but it nonetheless offers a highly amusing and satisfying soundtrack. The rears are often employed during certain scenes involving lots of activity, delivering a variety of atmospherics, such as the roaring cheers of football patrons or of the city. During quieter moments, subtle, carefully placed sounds of birds chirping and trees rustling in the wind are distinctly heard all around, generating a very satisfying soundfield.
Nevertheless, being a dialogue and character driven drama, much of the heavy lifting is done by the front channels, where more of those same sound effects are discretely and convincingly heard off-screen. Some of those cleverly placed noises smoothly pan across the screen, creating a much wider and larger soundstage full of activity. James Newton Howard’s score benefits the most, spreading across the entire screen with minor bleeds into the surrounds. The mid-range exhibits distinct clarity and room-penetrating details, allowing for the subtle, poignant differences in the orchestration to come through cleanly. Character interaction and conversations, no matter how soft or whispered, are well-prioritized and precise. The lossless mix can also be impressive at times in terms of bass, hitting hard with palpable weight and presence in certain scenes, much of it, of course, related to the music or the few bits of suspense.
Inspired by the 2009 GQ article, which was based on real-life events, ‘Concussion’ tells the story of the doctor who challenged the powerful National Football League with evidence of brain damage caused related to the game. Starring Will Smith, the story plays the standard sports drama routine with a unique spin but finishes the game with the same predictable, and ultimately unsatisfying, conclusion. The Blu-ray arrives with a near-reference video presentation and an excellent audio presentation. A small collection of supplements joins the team, making the overall package worth checking out for fans.