Concussion (2015)

Concussion (2015)
  • Time: 123 min
  • Genre: Drama | Sport
  • Director: Peter Landesman
  • Cast: Will Smith, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alec Baldwin, Luke Wilson, Albert Brooks


Will Smith stars in Concussion, a dramatic thriller based on the incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known. Omalu’s emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful institutions in the world.


  • Clear in its intentions but confused in its execution, Concussion attempts to marry a whistleblower’s exposé of a multi-billion dollar organisation and an immigrant love story and ends up shortchanging both sides. A strong central performance by Will Smith and an equally effective supporting turn from Alec Baldwin help the film some of its most complex beats, but writer-director Peter Landesman’s handling proves too simplistic, heavy-handed and nakedly manipulative to carry this cautionary tale over the line.

    The film’s opening moments signpost Landesman’s allergy to shading. Former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster (David Morse) addresses a room of fans, remembering his glory days when it was all about finishing the game and winning. Next time the local legend is seen, he is living out of his car, ignoring all contact from his concerned family and friends, and urging former team physician Dr. Julian Bailes (Baldwin) to fix him before ultimately tasering himself to death. Meanwhile, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) is introduced listing his seemingly endless collection of advanced degrees and certifications as he prepares to give courtroom testimony that will eventually prove the defendant to be innocent. Currently working in a Pittsburgh coroner’s office where his penchant for talking to the corpses as if they were living patients, thoughtfulness in his reporting, and status as a Nigerian immigrant have marked him as an outsider to most of his colleagues save for his exasperated but supportive boss, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).

    When Webster’s body turns up in the morgue for Omalu’s dissection, one thing is certain: Omalu will discover something amiss. After all, how is it that a relatively healthy man descended so rapidly into madness without some sign of abnormality in the brain? Omalu is determined to find out even it means paying for the tests out of his own pocket. What he uncovers is a degree of neurological deterioration he posits is caused by years and years worth of head-on collisions over the course of Webster’s pro-football career. The human brain does not have the capacity to absorb such force without damage, Omalu relates. Webster experienced over 70,000 blows to his head, the effects of which resulted in his mind destroying itself from within.

    Unsurprisingly, his published research is refuted by the NFL, who are not about to let some African voodoo doctor destroy not only America’s favourite game but also its most profitable empire. They do everything they can to discredit and dissuade Omalu, but more and more football players keep turning up dead. More disturbing than the game footage of players crashing into one another are scenes of former players like Justin Strzelczyk (Matthew Willig) and Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) struggling to comprehend what is happening to them. The former stumbles around his home, clutching at his wife, crying at her that the voices in his head are telling him to kill her. Even if the NFL weren’t so emphatically designated as the Big Bad, it is scenes like this that go a long way in condemning their malfeasance and injecting humanism into the film.

    Not that Concussion is lacking in humanism, but it tends to be misplaced. The film may have been more resonant if more of a spotlight had been placed on the eroding conditions of Webster, Strzelczyk or Duerson, especially as the roles are played by very fine actors. Instead, the focus is on Omalu and his personal life with fellow immigrant, Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). There is nothing inherently wrong with this, particularly since Mbatha-Raw is always a welcome presence, but it detracts from the film’s main objective.

    There is also something puzzling in the way Omalu is criticised for threatening the country’s national pastime and then extolled for exemplifying what it is to be an American when he is finally allowed to speak. It feels both hypocritical and too rah-rah; one half-expects the ghost of Knute Rockne to encourage him to “Win just one for the Gipper.”

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  • “The NFL owns a day of the week. The same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”

    You can hardly say “Concussion” is a swirling, action-packed film. The movie tells (in a painfully slow pace) the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian pathologist who discovers the existence of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). A brain trauma athletes of certain sports (mostly body contact sports) could get. Like top players of the NFL. This because they have to endure huge blows on their heads, countless times during their careers. In other words, their brains are slowly beaten to pulp. The end result is that these players inevitably change into aggressive, half-crazed hopeless cases, tormented by hallucinations, inner voices and a splitting headache (just to name a few symptoms). In most cases, their symptoms will be classified as an early stage of the Alzheimer’s disease. After an autopsy on the deceased Mike Webster (David Morse), Dr. Omalu decides on his own to let Webster’s brains being examined. This is how he discovered the true nature of Webster’s strange behavior. And after examining brains of other former star players who committed suicide, it showed that they had the same symptom. Time for the NFL to take countermeasures. But not to protect future players for those injuries.

    We witness an outright clash between Dr. Omalu and the CEO’s of the NFL, who consider this national sport in danger of disappearing when it appears to be unhealthy to bash your helmeted head against others all your life (I’m not a doctor, but I knew this wouldn’t be healthy). Just as Dr. Omalu I don’t know zip about American football. I also don’t understand how come an entire nation is crazy about this particular sport. However, American football became an industry, with hundreds of thousands employed there and where a lot of money is made. Despite the generous donations from the NFL to different charities, it’s obvious they want to protect their source of income, at all costs, against this Nigerian immigrant. And if it doesn’t work with telephone threats and intimidation, they’ll surely find a way to send him back to his homeland. Omalu versus the NFL. It sounds just like an exciting Super Bowl.

    “Concussion” is a moving and emotional film. Actually, it’s quite sad when you see how those huge, muscled guys end up as a heap of misery. And of course again an outsider who puts his finger on the problem. Needless to say this is some brilliant acting by Will Smith. One similar to that of “The Pursuit of Happiness”. Overall, I think Smith is an excellent actor who in my eyes only twice made a mistake when it’s about choosing a role. And for me that’s “Wild Wild West” and “After Earth”. In this movie he’s once again excellent as the devout, sometimes naive but brilliant physician who has some bizarre rituals while performing an autopsy. This film was perfect to get an Oscar nomination. That explains the release date of course. Unfortunately, probably there were some American football fans among the jurors, making it being nipped in the bud. I’m also sure that Smith’s popularity won’t benefit from it.

    Also, the supporting roles were superb. Especially the traumatized Webster, in an admirable way played by David Morse. A beautiful and shocking interpretation at the same time. And also an impressive usage of makeup. It seemed as if Webster’s forehead hid a swollen tumor. Even Alec Baldwin as the remorseful Dr. Julian Bailes was convincing. And finally, there is the lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a Kenyan girl who stayed over at Dr. Omalu’s house. Of course her contribution serves to romanticize this serious subject. Before you know it, she walks around pregnant.

    “Concussion” is on the one hand an indictment against the NFL bastion. But on the other hand this national sport is also being praised a bit and shows some legendary moments of NFL matches. Even Prema quotes the following: “You should see this, Bennett. It’s in fact something beautiful”. All in all it’s clear that money is more important than using common sense. I just wonder if this film will cause something of a stir. Certainly when you see how much fuss there was about an innocent nipple slip during the Super Bowl. Frankly, I think this storm (if it shows up) will lie down quickly, and everything stays the same. I just had one major question : how will an ex-NFL player feel, after watching this movie!

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  • This movie impresses even for an European like myself who does not have the faintest clue about football (it’s not played here). However the good acting and interesting subject matter make it a movie well worth watching, even if you do not know the sport.

    Will Smith puts on a fine performance and is convincing as Dr. Omalu, the accent however is a little on the fake side and distracts just a tiny bit from his performance, although you do get used to it after a while.

    The fight against the NFL to make them see what is wrong with the sport is well done, the NFL is the giant enemy at a distance, always there always willing to destroy the reputation, friends and family of Dr. Omalu without actually resorting to direct violence. It’s a nice tactic to keep you on the edge of your seat “what can happen to him or his family”. The love interest is also well played though it feels sometimes like its just there to make the movie a little longer than is needed.

    All in all this movie was a delight to watch, made me interested about a sport I did not know I had interest in and should be on your to watch list regardless in what place of the world you live in. A real all American movie for everyone in and outside of the USA.

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