Opening 18 Feb 2016
Writing credits: Peter Landesman
Principal actors: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gigu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse
In 2002, Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Webster was found dead in his pickup truck. Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who autopsied Webster, notices that the man was exhibiting bizarre symptoms of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s and other mental illness which would not make sense in a man his age. By using thousands of dollars of his own money, he determines that Webster suffered from a form of brain damage caused by repeated blows to the head. Omalu calls this Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and with the help of several other doctors he publishes his findings. This sets off a domino effect of threats and intimidation tactics led by the National (American) Football League (N.F.L.), which would last for several years despite overwhelming evidence proving his diagnosis.
While Will Smith puts in a decent turn as Dr. Omalu, the film’s weak script and poor character development overshadows the work he put in. Particularly the depiction of Omalu’s relationship with his future wife Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) comes off as awkward and dated. Prema is everything that is stereotypical in a female character. She speaks of her past trauma to evoke sympathy just at the right moment, she is strong when Omalu needs strength, she is the damsel in distress, and she is the love interest. Every time her character appeared on screen it was like playing sexism bingo to find out what stereotypically female thing she would do next. The worst part is that she doesn’t seem to actually be a person, only a foil for further development of the plot and Omalu’s character arc.
The real strength in the movie lies in its science and politics. It is fascinating to hear about Omalu’s discovery and the level of dirty dealings that the N.F.L. is willing to go to in order to prevent the truth being heard. Unfortunately, this is undermined due to the combined efforts of representatives of Will Smith, director Peter Landesman, and Sony executives who, as revealed in the Sony hacks, actively tried not to antagonize the N.F.L. by altering the script. This resulted in a rather confused film. It will go as far to make the point of showing how corrupt the N.F.L. is and then backtrack and start railing on about how football is such a beautiful sport. Who cares about whether football is beautiful or not? If it causes people’s brains to turn to mush, is it really worth it? Unfortunately, Concussion is not willing to take things a step further and condemn the N.F.L. for not even trying to address and solve a problem that actively affects their players and this is to its detriment.
Despite being set up to be a hard-hitting political film taking on the organization behind one of America’s most beloved and dangerous sports, instead Concussion is jumbled, stereotypical and cloying and hides from making too strong of a point. Considering the fact that it is revealed that some 28% of profession football players will suffer from serious cognitive problems after their careers, it is pathetic that the filmmakers bowed to pressure and failed to make a proper impact with the story. (Rose Finlay)