Dan's Review: Tough issues tackled in "Concussion"
Will Smith and Gugu Mbatha-Raw in Concussion - © 2015 Columbia Pictures
Concussion (Columbia Pictures)
Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language.
Starring Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Eddie Marsan, David Morse, Mike O'Malley, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Arliss Howard, Sara Lindsey, Bitsie Tulloch, Richard T. Jones, Hill Harper, Matt Willig, Eme Ikwuakor, Aziz Ansari, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones.
Written by Peter Landesman, based on the book Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Directed by Peter Landesman.
I love (LOVE) the game of football. I watch it, cheer for my favorite teams and play the video games. When some former NFL players made news over the past decade by committing suicide or engaging in erratic behavior, it became apparent to me that the game was having an adverse effect on their psyches. Concussion is the story of one doctor’s crusade to shed light on the effects of repeated blows to the head by football players.
Will Smith plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, an African-born pathologist working for a Pittsburgh coroner when the body of Mike Webster arrives in the lab after a suicide. Webster (David Morse) was a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers during their heyday, but experienced all kinds of pain and suffering since his retirement. Dr. Omalu orders a full lab work up, and discovers anomalies in Webster’s brain tissue. His study leads to the discovery chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition caused by repeated blows to the head, causing small brain fissures. CTE usually deteriorates the brain over time, causing patients to suffer pain, rage, depression and sometimes-violent behavior. Omalu widens his study to other players who commit suicide including former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Justin Strzelczyk (Matt Willig) another former Pittsburgh player who was killed after hitting a tanker truck during a police chase.
Along the way, Omalu meets with all kinds of opposition from fellow doctors, fans, players and the League itself. Despite kindling a romance with Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and achieving some success for discovering CTE, Omalu finds himself fighting an unwinnable war against the juggernaut NFL.
Eventually, Omalu and Prema are forced to retreat to California before CTE is accepted as a very real and destructive force in the sports community. Omalu’s work is eventually recognized, leading to stricter concussion protocols in place today. Whether those protocols and precautions are working remains to be seen.
Concussion is very good film about a very touchy subject. It forces fans, players, league officials, lawyers and coaches to do a little soul searching regarding the game we all love. Director-writer Peter Landesman tackles (no pun intended) CTE with reverence for the men who strap on pads and helmets every Sunday for our entertainment, while shedding light on a serious problem.
Will Smith’s performance is excellent, and welcome after a stretch of appearances in some subpar movies. Equal praise is warranted for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, along with Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin.
Some of the details surrounding medical pathology might leave audiences a little bored and the film’s ending doesn’t room for a lot of answers to the problem of CTE, but Concussion is worth seeing, even if you are a fan of the game.