Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Rapid Reviews: Concussion and 45 Years
Baseball may be American's greatest pastime, but professional football is our country's sport of the present and the future. The NFL's aura is magnetic, drawing attention to anything branded by its touch. And with Peter Landesman's hard-hitting new drama, Concussion, the NFL's unavoidable allure will be attracting audiences to a true story that refuses to pull any punches on the league's deceptive attempts at masking the facts behind player-safety concerns.
Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist working as a coroner outside of Pittsburgh in 2002. Dr. Omalu's strict devotion to his craft leads to a startling discovery after performing an autopsy on Hall of Famer "Iron Mike" Webster's body. Examining the football legend's brain, Bennet find that Webster's constant exposure to head trauma released an accumulating protein that, in essence, strangled the brain and destroyed his psyche. But when Dr. Omalu attempts to shine a public light on his groundbreaking research, he's met with a forceful opposition from the NFL who attempts to smear his work.
Through an unmistakable good vs. evil approach, Concussion unapologetically paints a sinister portrait of the National Football League and its current commissioner, Roger Goodell. But what opens as an in-your-face drama that refuses to downplay the severe struggles of every day life for these mentally wounded athletes, Concussion sadly culminates in a recursive plot that fails to reach an enviable climax. However, throughout the story's repetitious nature Will Smith gives his finest dramatic performance in years and remains as a stable bright spot for the feature. Whispers of a Best Actor Oscar nomination circled the film for quite some time, and it would be a justifiable result considering his opposition. Furthermore, Albert Brooks continues to offer exceptional supporting work as this marks another fine turn that will end up overlooked by the Academy. All in all, Concussion's sluggish second half becomes overshadowed by sound performances from its entire cast that help solidify the film as a decent viewing option.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Despite a limited release during the week of Christmas, the indie drama 45 Years made a huge splash at this year's Philadelphia Film Festival in October. Director Andrew Haigh quietly continues to build his legacy with this exceptional slow-burning character study, one that could even find itself in Oscar contention.
It's the week leading up to Kate and Geoff's (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) 45th wedding anniversary, when Geoff receives an unexpected letter regarding a former lover he had before meeting his wife. As the news sends her husband into a mental tailspin, Kate pries deeper into Geoff's old love story and confronts its impact on her own life.
Andrew Haigh develops such a simple, yet emotionally explosive, story that's beautifully acted by its pair of veteran leads. Tom Courtenay shines in his own right, but it's Charlotte Rampling who gives a career-best performance that's worthy of recognition. Although she missed out on nominations from the major precursors, namely the Golden Globes and SAG, I wouldn't count Rampling out of the Best Actress Oscar race just yet. She has the unique ability to transform a crawling 95 minute drama into a memorable example of genuine filmmaking. 45 Years gives its performers the entire canvas to work with and they muster up a wonderful piece of art that proves to be well worth the investment by the time the credits roll.
Stars: 3 stars out of 4