While it doesn’t have the impact for change it possibly could have, Concussion is a starring vehicle showing Will Smith at his best…something audiences haven’t seen for a long time.
Over the last few years, the NFL has been experiencing what many people have called a “concussion epidemic.” For those who may not be all that familiar, a concussion is a traumatic brain injury experienced from a heavy blow to the head. So when you think about a sport like football, then you can imagine everything that a player’s brain may go through. It’s not fair to say now that there’s a concussion epidemic in football, since concussions have been taking place in the sport since the sport first originated. The fact that it’s only been around the last 10 years where people have actually begun to take note on what happens during a concussion…it’s sad and a bit horrifying. How can no one, especially the head brass of the NFL, not know what’s going on with their players? Concussion doesn’t hold back, landing a few strong punches to the NFL, but ultimately it runs on generic cliches that we’ve seen before and even a powerhouse performance from Will Smith can’t help this underwhelming drama.
Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a Nigerian-born pathologist who is working in Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh Steelers legend Mike Webster (David Morse) dies. Webster was a four time Super Bowl champion, an All Pro, and a Hall of Famer who retired from football. After football though, he began suffering from memory loss, depression, and severe mood swings. Omalu takes it upon himself to figure out how an otherwise healthy athlete in one of the most competitive, dangerous sports could suffer such a psychological breakdown. Omalu goes on and runs test on Webster’s brain, only to discover Webster was suffering from a degree of neurological deterioration that is similar to Alzheimer’s disease.
Omalu names the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), he releases that the thousands upon thousands of head-on collisions that football players take through their lifetime could be the main cause of this disease. After publishing his findings in a medical journal, he begins to get some attention from the NFL and begins to get some pushback when he finds out the NFL doesn’t want these findings released to the public. As time goes on, more test cases start to pile up which causes more deflections from the NFL. Omalu finds a partner to take on the NFL in Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), a former Steelers team doctor who becomes a key co-advocate.
Concussion really can be a powerful movie at times, especially when it goes on to focus on former NFL players who have been affected by this disease. When the film shines a spotlight on players such as Justin Strzelczyk (played by Matthew Willig) and Dave Duerson (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Concussion is at its best. Seeing the big men of the NFL reduced to being vulnerable and scared…it’s gut wrenching. These men are warriors on the field, the ones who take the most impact on a play by play basis. And once the game is over for them…well the damage is done; sadly both of these individuals lost their lives while suffering from CTE.
The disappointing thing about Concussion is that it doesn’t focus primarily on the people who suffered and lived with this disease. While Will Smith’s depiction of Dr. Bennet Omalu is amazing and it could net him an Oscar nomination, it feels like Concussion goes a bit too much into his own personal story. Anytime Concussion goes on to flesh out Omalu’s personal life involving Prema Mutiso (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the momentum of the film dies down. That’s in no fault to the wildly talented Mbatha-Raw, but points more to director Peter Landesman. For the most part, Concussion is an okay drama that tells the story of one man fighting to get his work out. It just doesn’t feel like Landesman goes as far as he could have went, and it’s because of that Concussion won’t have the impact it possibly could’ve.
Concussion is written and directed by Peter Landesman and stars Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse, and Albert Brooks. Concussion will be in theaters on December 25, 2015.