Concussion: Movie Review
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You can’t fault a movie for being well intentioned. Such is the case for Concussion, a new football movie that is less about life on the gridiron than it is about losing one’s life off of it.
Based on a true story, Concussion chronicles a little-known Pittsburgh doctor who uncovers a connection between violent on-field head injuries and sustained, long-term brain damage that is plaguing many former NFL players. In several cases, this on-field head trauma has led to these men experiencing early dementia, unprovoked violent behavior, and committing suicide.
Objective in its assertions, Concussion, serves as an indictment of the NFL for initially ignoring the problem but also trickles all the way down to the youth football ranks, where hitting hard is the rule rather than the exception.
THE MOVIE IN A MINUTE
A Nigerian-born forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith, Men in Black) finds abnormalities in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers great Mike Webster (David Morse, The Hurt Locker) when performing his suicide-related autopsy. The NFL Hall of Famer, who reached the pinnacle of success playing the thankless center position, had spiraled downward in a haze of delusional behavior, drug addiction, and homelessness a dozen years after his retirement from the game. Troubled by what he finds, Dr. Omalu soon discovers that an oddly high number of NFL players with similar symptoms are also dying very young. Through intensive research, Dr. Omalu realizes he has discovered a disease that he calls chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. He determines CTE symptoms are in direct correlation to the high rate of concussion related injuries sustained in football. In fact, at one critical juncture of the movie, Dr. Omalu quips, “God did not intend for us to play football.” Needless to say, the NFL, a multi-billion dollar industry, is far from pleased with his findings.
THE GOOD AND BAD OF CONCUSSION
Dr. Omalu vs. the NFL serves as a David and Goliath-esque backdrop for what is ultimately a scientific-sports thriller. Despite a less than stellar Nigerian accent, Smith does a fantastic job of portraying the highly-lettered doctor, a brilliant man driven by his passion for unveiling the truth. Dr. Omalu knows little about the game of football nor does he care. He is more concerned about the preservation of human life after a player has hung up his shoulder pads. Smith pulls off the leading role with a gentle, tender spirit tinged by the doctor's nuanced eccentricities.
Several other performances are worth noting. Morse for his tragically heartbreaking portrayal of Webster, Albert Brooks as wisecracking hospital administrator Dr. Cyril Wecht, and an understated Alec Baldwin as the guilt-fueled former Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor Dr. Julian Bailes.
One area where the movie falls flat is Dr. Omalu’s romantic relationship with a Kenyan immigrant (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jupiter Ascending) who eventually becomes his wife. She does little but offer encouragement to Dr. Omalu, providing no less than three “don’t give up” type speeches during Concussion’s 123 minutes.
From a technical standpoint, viewers are left to wonder why the movie’s director, Peter Landesman (Parkland) chose to shoot the entire film in a faint bluish-pink tint. The end result is imagery that is dull and flat.
Christian audiences will be pleased with the positive portrayal of Dr. Omalu’s faith as the movie shows him attending church and referencing God. In one scene, a Bible is displayed prominently on his nightstand. However, his love interest is living with him, the result of Dr. Omalu taking her in because she had nowhere to stay upon her arrival in America.
Concussion is mostly profanity-free save for one highly pivotal scene where no less than five off-color words are used, chief among them, taking the Lord’s name in vain.
IN THE END
Concussion is a well-crafted examination of a very real problem in sports that isn’t going away anytime soon. It is an issue that will never be resolved until the NFL fully steps from the dark shadows of its past and makes a full commitment to helping solve CTE. If nothing else, Concussion should open up even more dialogue about doing what is right rather than allowing previous wrong decisions to fester.
The movie is credible, damning at times, but in the end it will likely get lost in a collision of cultural complacency.
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