If films would include a runner at the bottom of the screen for the duration of its runtime, this one probably would’ve read “For Your Consideration” every time Will Smith was on-screen. That’s not a harsh criticism in the slightest but rather an observation that Smith was the main focus of the film in terms of performance that no one else came close to him. It was almost as if the filmmakers didn’t allow anyone else in the film to reach the plateau where Smith was situated during the movie. Again, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
However… this does take away from the film as it seems to all be focused on Will Smith and his fantastic performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who discovers that untreated concussions (especially in the NFL) are leading to serious problems with a new disease known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). Will BECOMES the character and you truly forget about the fact that this guy used to be the Fresh Prince. The rest of the performances range from good to average for the most part. Albert Brooks is a standout as Will’s boss, Alec Baldwin does his usual reliable work as a former Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor who helps Omalu on his crusade, and David Morse does a lot of good work in his brief role as the football player who met a tragic end that sparks the research, Mike Webster. Omalu’s wife (played by relative unknown Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is not written as a very strong character in particular though and the scenes between her and Will seem forced because there is almost no chemistry between them.
As for the film itself outside of the acting, there is some decent stuff. The dizzying camera work is quite good here, especially when we see the excruciating footage of football players being assaulted on the field to show the true impact of all the shots to the head. There is some solid stuff done with Smith’s home life as we see enough of him in a personal (rather than professional) light that we are allowed to connect with him that much more. Again though, the lack of chemistry with he and his wife certainly hinders things a bit, especially when we are supposed to believe that they fell in love and married each other rather quickly.
The other thing that didn’t necessarily irk me but didn’t impress me either is its portrayal of the villains (aka the NFL). I have no problem with the NFL being portrayed as the “bad guys” as I am certainly no lover of football by any stretch but at times it felt one-dimensional. Luke Wilson is a fairly good actor so to give him the part of the NFL’s commissioner Roger Goodell and then give him barely anything to do is rather disappointing. However, Smith is so good in the film and the editing and camera work is very strong that it makes us sympathize with him quickly despite the fairly thin portrayal of the baddies. The scene in which Will tells Dr. Maroon to “tell the truth” (which is all over the trailers) is a very strong one and probably will decide whether he gets a Globe and/or an Oscar this year.
All in all, it’s a good (but not great) film with a strong lead, a few decent supporting performances, and some good technical prowess. The fact that it is so well-made in terms of music, editing, and camera work really elevates the film that it actually made me fully invested in the story from start to finish despite its flaws.
* (Brutal; the worst rating)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)