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Thursday, December 31, 2015


Aiming for an Oscar...

But a swing and a miss!

That's the wrong sports metaphor, isn't it?

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

When African immigrant and world-class pathologist, Dr Bennet Omalu discovers extensive brain damage in a series of ex-football players who died under severely strange circumstances in a short amount of time, he uncovers a truth that the National Football League hoped would never get out: that playing football is extremely tough on the brains of those who play it. Based on a true story.

What we thought

Before dealing with the merits (and notable flaws) of the film itself, I have to ask: how on earth was it a surprise to anyone that a full-contact sport like American Football, a sport that features head-on collisions as a routine part of the game, is a source of massive brain-damage in its players? Seriously, isn't this more or less the equivalent to finding out that boxers have a predilection to getting punched in the face or that swimmers are quite likely to get a bit damp? I know next to nothing about sports, but this seems pretty obvious even to my utterly untrained eyes.

And, actually, my befuddlement at this aspect of the story was ultimately a problem that I had with the film itself. I just couldn't believe that this would be considered the major discovery that the film depicts it to be and I almost can't believe that football fans, who presumably watch the games on a regular basis, would be shocked by this discovery. I say “almost” because, frankly speaking, though I may be a bit of a major nerd about things like films, comics and music, in terms of blind, obsessive devotion to my hobby/ passion, I have absolutely nothing on die-hard sports fans.

Still, despite my utter disbelief at the film's central conceit, it did actually happen - and quite similarly to the way it's depicted here, at that. Go figure. To be honest, though, once you remove this aspect from the equation, you do have a recipe for a pretty terrific film. This is classic David and Goliath stuff, starring one of cinema's most charismatic movie stars (Will Smith, obviously) and a pretty great up and coming actress (Belle's Gugu Mbatha-Raw) leading a top-notch supporting cast that includes the like of Alec Baldwin and a really terrific Albert Brooks.

And yet, though the film really ain't half bad, it's nothing special either. And there are a number of reasons for this. First off, though Will Smith is good in the role, his natural, movie-star charisma is actually something of a drawback here as he never quite disappears into the role to the extent that he probably needs to. His accent, for example, sounds really good to me but, at the same time, it comes across like Will Smith doing a really good Nigerian accent, rather than an actual Nigerian. I remain a huge fan of the guy's, but for all the good work that he does here, Will Smith was probably the wrong sort of actor for such a part.

More problematically, though - and really this is the central failing of the film – the film is interesting enough but it never anywhere as emotionally compelling as it should be. Partly, the pace is largely draggy at even its most exciting moments and, partly, the direction by Parkland and Kill the Messenger's Peter Landesman (who also wrote the similarly somewhat inert script) just lack the vim and vigour to really do justice to the story it's trying to tell.

Really, could you just imagine if a team like Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle/ David Fincher got their hands on this story. Who knows, they might even get me to buy into that rather ludicrous conceit. As it is, we just have a very well intentioned but no more than perfectly decent but far from noteworthy telling of a potentially far more interesting story. Pity.

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