As somebody that loved playing football as a kid, and have spent the last 28 years doing a fantasy football league with my adult friends…it’s safe to say I’m a huge fan of the NFL. All the stories involving the sport I find interesting. That could be Odell Beckham Jr. being suspended recently (not just because he’s on my fantasy team), the Chargers possibly leaving, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick deflating footballs, and of course the most important story — the head injuries of these warriors that go out every Sunday and provide entertainment to millions and millions. Locally we can all understand the importance of this, with the suicide of Chargers Hall of Famer Junior Seau. He killed himself, and his brain showed signs of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Seau is also mentioned with a few other players at the end of the film.
This is the time of year when studios release movies they think have a shot at Oscar glory, and certainly Will Smith’s impeccable accent and performance as Nigerian Dr. Bennet Omalu is worthy of a nomination. It’s just a shame the film isn’t better. It felt like a TV movie that lacked drama. They tried to give it some drama — cars following the wife, weird sounds while working late at the office or sleeping at home. Perhaps if it had been shown through the point of view of one of the players. It does start that way, with the underused David Morse playing Steelers Hall of Famer Mike Webster, who lost all his money, became homeless, and although he’d go to the team doctor (Alec Baldwin) for help, there wasn’t much that could be done. A more dramatic story could’ve been told through his eyes.
There were also moments that felt forced. For example, as a forensic pathologist and neuropathologist, Omalu had a co-worker always barking orders at him and questioning his every move. It’s hard to believe that really happened.
Writer/director Peter Landesman never makes this as exciting as it should be. Having people in suits occasionally argue…just isn’t that gripping.
Albert Brooks plays a mentor to Omalu, and he does his usual shtick, which is fun. Even when he seems to be scolding Omalu, he has a twinkle in his eye. At one point he tries telling him how the NFL isn’t going to change.
“They own a day of the week. The same one the church used to own.”
It’s nice to see Brooks getting roles as a character actor, since audiences never seemed to appreciate his brilliant comedic mind and the films he made.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Omalu’s wife. She’s attractive, but her involvement in his life feels contrived and she isn’t given a lot to do but be that supportive spouse.
Just like when Will Smith did Six Degrees of Separation, it’s nice when he shows he can act in a movie, and not just shoot and punch people (although they do make his character unable to dance, which might not be believable for a former hip-hop artist).
It’s also not as powerful hearing Smith bellow that he wants to the truth. Nicholson did that so much better.
And I have no clue what they were thinking with the cheesy monologue Omalu gave. That failed on multiple levels.
Studios need to give us more David Morse, and less clichéd screenplays. Even if it’s heart is in the right place, it’s just not a very interesting film. It’s like being excited about watching football on Sunday, only to turn on the TV and see it’s the Cleveland Browns, and they’re kicking a 28-yard field goal.
This gets 2 stars out of 5.