Concussion: Exposing The Truth

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‘Concussion’ is the latest film starring Will Smith and explores the tragic outcomes of the ferocious hits and knocks experienced by players in the National Football League (NFL), a side of the game that was kept secret from professional players, their families, and dedicated supporters.

Will Smith plays Doctor Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian with almost every degree and accreditation under the sun, a man whose profession is a forensic pathologist at a coroner’s office. While committing an autopsy on former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, an icon who was the saving grace of a city in his prime, who died at the raw age of 50, Omalu discovers a strange inconsistency; Webster’s brain damage, drug use, self-harm and other fatalities are seldom discovered in adults of that age, but more so in the older ages closer to 80.

In receiving more and more dead bodies of veteran American Footballers, Omalu is able to discern an undeviating trend in his patients, one which confirms that the heavy blows they sustain to their heads over their lengthy careers lead to a powerful brain damage, one which is undetectable in most medical examinations and often results in a speedy and inhumane death.

As palpable and scientifically credible his findings are, Omalu is individually head-hunted and persecuted by the NFL, a mighty and influential multi-billion dollar corporation with power and connections in places that can too easily ruin lives and impose difficulty on far weaker families.

I found such a story to be compelling and intriguing, yet the execution was what failed in this film.

Director Peter Landesman selected a talented and suitable cast, headlined by Will Smith, as well as Alec Baldwyn playing a mature role of Dr. Julian Bailes, a pair of medical experts on a mission to unravel one of the most terrible secrets in the history of professional sport.

It was a pleasure watching Smith and merely admiring his masterful performance, one which was unquestionably one of his best to date and deserving of an Oscar Nomination. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the latest news, Smith has been actively giving The Academy the cold shoulder, regularly boycotting the famous award ceremony due to there being no colored actors nominated this year, stating that “There’s a regressive slide towards separatism, towards racial and religious disharmony and that’s not the Hollywood that I want to leave behind. That’s not the industry, that’s not the America I want to leave behind”.

Dr. Omalu was emotional, clever and had a never-say-die attitude, one which was truly inspiring.

He was constantly being shut down, given extremely negative appraisals for his work and research, and rather quickly put in an unfavorable view in the public eye; all the more reason for him to give up, yet that was something he just could not do. The Nigerian accent spoken by Smith was perfect, as by the later stages of the film I had forgotten about his actual American intonation.

Will Smith, Dr. Bennet Omalu and director Peter Landesman Thanks to www.post-gazette.com for the image
Will Smith, Dr. Bennet Omalu and director Peter Landesman
Thanks to www.post-gazette.com for the image

Another character which really helped move along this (what felt like) lengthy film was the character played by Albert Brooks, Dr. Cyril Wecht. There was a somber atmosphere and feeling with this film, constantly being brought down further by the NFL’s relentless attacks on Omalu, however with Brooks on the screen, this darkness faded; he brought a suitable level of humor to alter the tone of the film, having some laughable moments in an otherwise serious film.

Unfortunately, Prema Mutiso (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the love interest of Dr. Omalu was quite forced, and as the film progressed,

I understood that her only reason for being there was to support Omalu during his challenging times, as she brought nothing of her own to the table and never actually continued, progressed or added anything to the story.

While ‘Concussion’ was informative and educational, I don’t think it did enough. I wish that instead of burning a significant portion of the run-time of the film on the relationship between Mutiso and Omalu, as well as some unnecessary exposition, it went to the next level and fleshed out the intricacies of the riveting and enthralling true story, one which occurred in the early years of the millennium. Topics and instances were brought up and established, but they weren’t explored or delved into deeply enough.

Since Dr. Omalu’s discovery of CTE, the NFL has taken some applaudable and necessary strides in terms of protecting their players’ health and future welfare, by introducing the concussion protocol in this dangerously violent sport and form of entertainment. Football is so rife in America, and yes, it is played for the enjoyment of millions of fans, making it a part of American patriotism; sadly, too often in this film were we reminded of this, with regular references and speeches about what it means to be a real American.

‘Concussion’ is a decent film, one which could’ve been great. Dealing with the personal struggles of a feeble foreign doctor, researcher, and coroner battling against a giant-like villain that is the NFL, ‘Concussion’ is a film worth watching to gain an understanding of the details of this ordeal, yet one viewing is definitely adequate.

My rating: 7/10

“Tell the truth! Tell the truth!”

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