By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
It honestly doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the sport of football can be a rather dangerous one. However, the general public really had no clue how serious the head trauma incurred by football players could get until a forensic pathologist revealed his findings in an independent study he conducted on his own. Dr. Bennett Omalu, an American immigrant, originally from Africa, decides to conduct a brain tissue study in 2005 when an autopsy on a former NFL player fails to reveal why he lost his mind and killed himself through abusive behavior.
Will Smith stars as Dr. Omalu, a highly intelligent doctor who uncovers how severe the brain trauma can get when football players take some serious hits. After reporting his results in a medical journal, NFL officials seek to discredit Omalu and his associates Dr. Cyril H. Wecht (Albert Brooks) and Dr. Julian Bales (Alec Baldwin), a former NFL team doctor. When Omalu and his colleagues refuse to back down and retract their statements, Omalu and his wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) begin to receive threatening phone calls, career-ending threats, and other suspicious activity that leave the doctor and his wife in much fear.
Written and directed by Peter Landesman, based on the book Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas, Concussion is a fascinating, suspenseful, albeit somewhat melodramatic, movie. The film’s story has much in common with Michael Mann’s The Insider which is a film about big tobacco’s cover up of the ill effects of smoking. Both have suspenseful and tense moments; however, Michael Mann is much more effective in creating a tense mood and building up tension. It is also pretty obvious that Landesman drew some inspiration from that conspiracy story, as he chooses to point out their similarities to his audience a few times in the film.
Still, the film does provide an insightful look at the effects of the professional sport and does have an important message which sports fans can often forget rather easily. I do applaud Landesman in not taking an excessively preachy route in his presentation, and he even acknowledges the joys and good things that can come from the sport. Much like Omalu’s studies and Laska’s book, the film is simply a wake up call to both sports fans and athletes alike. The message is not that the sport should be banned, but to raise awareness of a serious problem that is need of a remedy.
The movie features some superb performances by Smith, Mbatha-Raw, Brooks, and Baldwin. Smith must have had an exceptional dialect coach because he sounds nearly flawless in his delivery of an African accent. The film also features some impressive acting by David Morse (Mike Webster), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Dave Duerson), and Richard T. Jones (Andre Waters) who all portray NFL players suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy resulting from severe brain trauma incurred during their careers.
This movie, though mostly well done, may not be in most top ten movie lists of this year, but it definitely is one of the most important films made in the past several decades. It is also always rather encouraging to see a true story about a courageous person willing to stand up to a power institution such as the NFL to do what is morally right. It also makes me happy to see Will Smith in a solid movie, as it has been a while since he has starred in one that deserves some acclaim.