Rated PG-13 for profanity, mature themes and disturbing images
Will Smith Delivers Oscar-Quality Performance As Fearless Brain Researcher Who Fought The NFL
In 2002, Will Smith landed his first Academy Award nomination for Ali, a riveting biopic about Muhammad Ali directed by Michael Mann. Although a cultural icon in his own right, Smith managed to disappear into the role in the process of delivering a brilliant performance as “The Greatest” boxer of all time.
Despite his being able to “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” the sport eventually exacted a devastating toll on the champ. For Ali would become afflicted with a host of neurological disorders as a consequence of taking so many hits to the head.
While fans call it being “punch drunk,” the clinical term for the condition is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). What’s ironic is that Will Smith is on the verge of landing another Oscar nomination for Concussion, a picture in which he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigeria-born physician who discovered the link between football and brain damage while working as a forensic pathologist in Pennsylvania.
He first recognized something was amiss while performing an autopsy on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ former center Mike Webster (David Morse), who died at 50 from a combination of amnesia, depression and dementia. Dr. Omalu was shocked to observe that the Hall of Famer had the brain of a very old man, so he decided to posthumously examine those of other National Football League vets who also passed away prematurely.
Lo and behold, the research revealed they all had suffered from CTE, ostensibly as a result of the pounding their skulls had taken on the field. Unfortunately, when Omalu subsequently attempted to go public with the his findings, he was threatened and discredited by the army of lawyers and quacks hired by Commissioner Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) to protect the NFL’s image.
Thus unfolds Concussion, a David vs. Goliath saga reminiscent of The Insider (1999), the similarly-themed exposé recounting the real-life ordeal of the intrepid whistleblower who took on the Tobacco Industry when it was still hell bent on denying any link between smoking and cancer. An interesting factoid which bears mentioning is that The Insider was directed by the aforementioned Michael Mann.
Concussion, however, was directed by Peter Landesman (Parkland). He adapted it to the screen with the help of investigative journalist Jeanne Marie Laksas from “Game Brain,” an article she published about the cover-up in the October 2009 issue of GQ magazine.
Landesman surrounded Smith with a talented cast, starting with the gifted Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Omalu’s feisty wife Prema. The dramatis personae also includes Oscar nominees Alec Baldwin (for The Cooler) and Albert Brooks (for Broadcast News), as well as Hill Harper, Richard T. Jones, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Eddie Marsan.
But make no mistake, Concussion is a marvelous Will Smith vehicle, one that he’ll undoubtedly get to drive for the duration of awards season, possibility all the way to the Oscars on Sunday, February 28th.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 123 minutes
20th Century Fox
Rated R for profanity, graphic violence, gory images, ethnic slurs, brief nudity and a rape
Harrowing Tale Of Survival Recounts Legendary Explorer’s Grueling Ordeal On American Frontier
Hugh Glass (1780-1833) was a legendary frontiersman who explored the American West in the early 19th century. He’s been previously portrayed on the big screen by Richard Harris in Man In The Wilderness (1971) and by Dewitt Lee in Apache Blood (1975).
Glass’ life story has also been the subject of several books, most recently, The Revenant, a harrowing tale of survival published by Michael Punke in 2002. That best-selling page-turner has now been adapted by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who won a trio of Academy Awards for writing, directing and producing Birdman, 2015’s Best Picture of the Year.
The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio who just might finally land the Oscar that has eluded his grasp five times before. For, this is a star vehicle featuring the veteran thespian in virtually every scene. And he never disappoints, delivering again and again in a compelling performance which keeps you on the edge of your seat as you pull for his character from beginning to end.
At the point of departure, we are introduced to Hugh and his orphaned, Pawnee son, Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), as they escort a hunting party of fur trappers across the Rockies. Along the way, the expedition is tested at every turn, whether by “Injun” ambush, animal attack, frigid weather or the challenging terrain.
Unfortunately, one member of the crew, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), is a cowardly racist with no reservations about cavalierly murdering Hawk and leaving the boy’s badly wounded father behind to die in the forest. Instead of perishing, Hugh exhibits an incomparable will to survive, if only to pursue his son’s killer to the end of the Earth, or at least back to the fort.
What ensues is a visually-captivating spectacular chronicling our intrepid hero’s determination to exact revenge in honor of his dearly-departed offspring. Despite the host of hurdles in his path, Hugh remains resolute as he stalks Fitzgerald across a vast expanse of the Wyoming wilderness in a deliberately-paced game of cat-and-mouse. Credit co-star Tom Hardy for serving up the sort of sniveling villain in the backstabbing Fitzgerald that an audience just loves to see get his due. That makes it easy to endure the two-plus hour build-up to the fierce finale.
A relentlessly-gruesome, gritty and grim adventure reminiscent of how the West was won.
Excellent (4 stars)
In English, French and Native American dialects with subtitles
Running time: 156 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening December 25, 2015
Daddy’s Home (PG-13 for profanity, crude humor, suggestive material and mature themes) Dysfunctional family dramedy about the competition between a resurfacing biological father (Mark Wahlberg) and his ex-wife’s (Linda Cardellini) new husband (Will Ferrell) for the affection of the kids (Scarlett Estevez and Owen Vaccaro) from the first marriage. With Thomas Haden Church, Alessandra Ambrosio and Cedric Yarbrough.
The Hateful Eight (R for profanity, frontal nudity, graphic gore and a scene of eroticized violence) Quentin Tarantino directed this post-Civil War saga set in Wyoming revolving around a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) whose stagecoach runs into trouble while bringing an apprehended fugitive (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to justice. Featuring Samuel L. Jackson, Channing Tatum, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth and Zoe Bell.
Joy (PG-13 for brief profanity) David O. Russell wrote and directed this fact-based drama about the cash-strapped single-mom (Jennifer Lawrence) who turned her family’s fortunes around by inventing the Miracle Mop. Ensemble cast includes Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro, Isabella Rossellini, Virginia Madsen, Edgar Ramirez, Diane Ladd, Melissa Rivers, Susan Lucci and Drena De Niro.
Point Break (PG-13 for violence, profanity, sexuality, mature themes and drug use) Remake of the 1991 thriller about an FBI Agent (Luke Bracey) who infiltrates a gang of globe-trotting, extreme sports daredevils suspected of staging a string of daring, financial market heists. With Edgar Ramirez, Teresa Palmer and Ray Winstone.
45 Years (R for profanity and brief sexuality) Marital crisis drama about a couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) whose 45th anniversary party plans are jeopardized by the discovery of the corpse of his girlfriend missing more than a half-century. With Geraldine James, Dolly Wells and Hannah Chalmers.
TransFatty Lives (Unrated) Bittersweet biopic featuring writer/director Patrick O’Brien filming himself after being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Yellow Day (PG for mature themes) Faith-based feature chronicling a day-in-the-life of a sensitive young man (Drew Seeley) searching for spirituality, hope and love. With Lindsey Shaw, Ashley Boettcher and Akeem Smith.