Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Football is a dangerous sport, and it is at its most dangerous on the professional level, where bones and ligaments and muscles are smashed and torn and shattered. Today, we know that the most important muscle, the brain, is the most vital to a player…and also the most vulnerable, and that it would foolish to deny that smashing heads together would never cause a problem inside the ol’ coconut. But it was only a short time ago when the National Football League (NFL), the biggest sports league/corporation in the world…did exactly that.

After Hall of Fame player Mike Webster (David Morse) passes away, his autopsy is performed by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) who discovers a new deteriorating disease of the brain caused by years of impacts. With the support of his new wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), boss (Albert Brooks), and former team doctor (Alec Baldwin), Dr. Omalu publishes his findings, and is immediately attacked by the NFL.

CONCUSSION sets itself up as a David vs. Goliath story, with the relatively unknown (but very well educated) Dr. Omalu going up against a corporation which, as the film says, owns a day of the week once held down by the Church. Dr. Omalu, who is Nigerian born but knows next-to-nothing about the business or the cultural impact of football, has all the good intentions behind him and only wants the truth to come out to protect players…and kids who are playing the game. In retaliation, the NFL fires back by discrediting Dr. Omalu, even going as far as hiring their own doctors to offer differing opinions. In addition to being David vs. Goliath, CONCUSSION morphs into a look at doctors who are on a corporate payroll and where their loyalties really are.

While the material is perfect for a good drama, CONCUSSION stumbles around like a cold-cocked player in the telling of its story. The film is assembled of scene after scene after scene of big, long speeches; often with Dr. Omalu long-windedly telling (or yelling at) people how the truth must be known…or of other people even more long-windedly telling or yelling at Dr. Omalu to let him know that the NFL is going to crush him. It’s an entire film of big speeches, most of it redundant, giving CONCUSSION a very dull feel. Director Peter Landesman, working off his own script, does way too much telling and not enough showing.

If not for Will Smith, CONCUSSION would be a disaster on the field. Smith nails his accent perfectly, and displays the emotions of compassion, confusion, and the weight of the sporting world on his shoulders in a great performance. Smith vanishes into the role in one of his best outings. The lovely and talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw keeps up with Smith as good as he is, and goes through her own set of tough emotions. Albert Brooks is once cast as a grumpy old man, but it works and he is once again very funny despite the harsh makeup job he has to act through. Alec Baldwin gets a lot to do but his Louisiana accent only shows up every once in a while. Luke Wilson has the odd job of playing the well-known NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but only gets a few lines (during press conferences) and is smartly used sparingly. The show is nearly stolen by David Morse, who as the rapidly deteriorating Mike Webster shows just how frightening this newly discovered disease really is. Morse is so good, the film could have survived on him alone.

There is a very long buildup headed towards some sort of expected showdown which never happens, and although the history books don’t call for it, as a film there is very little climax. There is a very important story to be told here, but despite a great performance by Smith, CONCUSSION feels like a football team which moves the ball all over the field, but never crosses the goal line.


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