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‘Concussion’ A Showcase For Will Smith

The true story of a brilliant Nigerian immigrant who made it his mission to expose the dangerous after-effects of playing football, Concussion wouldn’t be the movie it is without Will Smith in the leading role. He brings more than conviction and a persuasive accent to the performance: it’s that effortless command of the screen that makes him a bona fide Movie Star.

Smith plays a tightly-focused forensic neuropathologist who works in the Pittsburgh coroner’s office, alienating his less gifted colleagues as he searches for answers in each autopsy he performs. When he poses troubling questions about a former football hero’s self-abused body, he opens a Pandora’s Box of inquiry into football-related injuries…and unwittingly makes himself the target of misplaced anger and derision.

While the story is both interesting and revealing, director Peter Landesman’s screenplay eventually becomes didactic and loses its dramatic drive. The filmmaker is smart enough to avoid making his hero a man without flaws, but the David and Goliath story of an obscure doctor taking on the all-powerful National Football League leaves little room for suspense.

Cast as Smith’s mentor and protector in the coroner’s office, Albert Brooks reminds us what a fine actor he is. He manages to bring a touch of humor to the role but it’s his honesty that makes the character resonate so strongly.

Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and an almost-unrecognizable David Morse lend able support.

I regret that director Landesman and his cinematographer chose to shoot so much of their film in macro-closeups, the kind where you can count the pores on an actor’s face. Does he think this approach heightens the impact of a scene? What ever happened to medium shots?

Smith’s magnetic performance and the provocative subject makeConcussion a decent-enough film, but it’s more notable for its intentions than its results.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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