Peter Landesman’s latest American football drama is very poignant in the wake of the 50th Superbowl celebrations. Concussion is an unnerving true story divided between the reality of science and the love of the game. Will Smith gives an insightful portrayal as Dr Bennet Omalu, the likes of which we haven’t seen from him since The Pursuit of Happyness.
Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist, finds a degenerative brain condition when performing an autopsy on the late Mike Webster, the beloved Pittsburgh Steeler legend. Growing curious into the disturbing demise of a healthy former athlete, Omalu researches the long-term effects of repeated blows to the head in football. When he publishes his discovery of the disorder chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the higher-ups at the National Football League refute his research as fallacious reasoning. With the aid of Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), the former Steelers team doctor, and the unfortunate deaths of other former NFL players, Omalu urges the NFL and the world to accept the harsh reality of concussions.
Though Concussion is largely a medical and sports drama, it also explores the nature of corporate America and massive franchises like the National Football League. Omalu’s mentor, Dr Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), dryly remarks that “Bennet Omalu is going to war with the manufacturer of a product that 20 million Americans crave every Sunday, the way they crave water.” Landesman’s film has similar integrity to other football films like The Blind Side, but paints the sport in a less triumphant light. The scientist’s work is slated because he is foreign and does not watch the game, and therefore threatens an institution and America’s favourite pastime.
Will Smith impresses with a studied and moving performance as Bennet Omalu. He strikes the perfect balance of nobility and self-righteous without being over-pious, particularly in the scenes opposite his wife, Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
Concussion is a chilling insight into the pursuit of truth, in an institution where what is revealed could be its downfall. After viewing this film, the viewer leaves the cinema fearing football. This is mostly due to the story’s focus on true events, rather than being an expertly crafted movie. Nevertheless, when Omalu is deemed an American hero at the end of the film, the truth of that fact is deeply felt.
Concussion is released nationwide on 12th February 2016.
Watch the trailer for Concussion here: