Directed by: Peter Landesman
Written by: Peter Landesman based on the GQ article by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Starring: Will Smith (Dr. Bennet Omalu), Alec Baldwin (Dr. Julian Bailes), Albert Brooks (Dr. Cyril Wecht), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Prema Mutiso), David Morse (Mike Webster), Arliss Howard (Dr. Joseph Maroon), Mike O'Malley (Daniel Sullivan), Eddie Marsan (Dr. Steven DeKosky), Hill Harper (Christopher Jones), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Dave Duerson), Stephen Moyer (Dr. Ron Hamilton), Richard T. Jones (Andre Waters), Paul Reiser (Dr. Elliot Pellman),Luke Wilson (Roger Goodell), Sara Lindsey (Gracie), Matthew Willig (Justin Strzelczyk), Bitsie Tulloch (Keana Strzelczyk).
It seems like the only people who really believe in the American Dream anymore are immigrants – perhaps America is so good at marketing itself through mass entertainment, and the immigrants don’t actually have to see the reality of that dream up close. Hollywood is good at selling those dreams through mass entertainment – smaller, darker movies seem to be about the perversion of that Dream, and how it has become nightmare, but those don’t play as well overseas. In the new film Concussion – Will Smith plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, who was born and raised in Nigeria, and wanted nothing else but to come to America and live his dream life. And at the beginning of the film, that is precisely what it seems like he is doing – he has many degrees, and a job he loves as a pathologist in Pittsburgh. His boss (Albert Brooks) likes him, even if his co-workers aren’t quite so sure. Omalu is a serious man – when he isn’t working, he is studying for yet another degree, or attending church – he is a quietly religious man, and it’s refreshing how the film doesn’t ignore that side of his life, but also doesn’t shove it done the audience’s throats.
Omalu’s life is turned upside down when he discovers something strange in the brain of Mike Webster (David Morse) – a hero to Pittsburgh Steelers fans, who after his career ended slide in mental illness, depression, drug addiction, and eventually death at the age of 50. Omalu discovers new condition and names it CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) – basically stating that because Webster spent his life ramming his head into other people that his brain was damaged by all these repeated small blows, and could never recover. This is accepted science now – not so much less than 10 years ago when he discovered it. In his naiveté, Omalu believes people will be grateful for his discovery – thinking it can help save the lives of their heroes. But the NFL is huge business, and this is a threat – and they respond as most companies do when they feel threatened.
Concussion is a rather inspiring true story – not only because Omalu is a self-made success, but also because even after everything he goes through during the course of the film, he refuses to give into easy cynicism, and remains ever the optimist. His relationship with his wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is rather sweet and understated as well – it doesn’t require an actress as great as Mbatha-Raw is, but she does it well anyway. Smith is a charming actor – probably best known for his larger than life, movie star charm performances, but he dons a convincing accent here, and nicely underplays Omalu – not grandstanding as much as you might usually expect from him.
The film itself though is kind of dull. Written and directed by Peter Landesman, the film never quite becomes the preachy film we expect, and although it hints at some danger, it doesn’t really go their either. The film isn’t much for false dramatics. Unfortunately, it’s not much for dramatics of any kind really – so we get scene after scene of Omalu talking with his colleagues (Alec Baldwin among them) about his research, and not much else. Albert Brooks is, as always, a pleasure to watch – in fact all of the actors are good. The film is fine – hardly rousing entertainment and feels like the type of thing TSN will put on during a slow night, when there’s no football, and you fall asleep part way through.