Review: Concussion – Head trauma drama

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ConcussionThe new film, Concussion, wants to ruin your football season by making you feel guilty for enjoying watching grown men bang their heads together on live television, potentially killing themselves with each and every knock to the noggin; but dagnabit, this is ‘Merica, and if we want to beat or shoot ourselves to death then that’s our God-given right. It says so right there in the Constitution…doesn’t it?

All joking aside, Concussion’s goal is to make a political statement about corporate greed at the expense of the working man (even if, in this case, that man makes hundreds of thousands of dollars just for playing a game), but it falls short by several yards, muddled in television movie-of-the-week styled melodrama.

Based on a news article titled, Game Brain, by Jeanne Marie Laskas and published in GQ magazine of all places, Will Smith plays the real-life character, Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist and immigrant who believes in the American Dream more than most Americans. He works in a Pittsburgh Pathology lab, performing autopsies on the city’s recently departed citizens.

Omalu takes pride in his work and makes a personal connection with each body that comes across his table, treating the deceased with honor and respect – a methodology that does not always sit well with his fellow pathologists.

ConcussionWhen a former football hero, Mike Webster (David Morse), commits suicide, Dr. Omalu is determined to figure out why this man, who had everything going for him, ended up in such a grievous state.

Through research Omalu has to pay for out of his own pocket, he discovers that Webster’s ailments stem from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), or getting hit in the head too many times over the course of too many years.

After finding multiple dead players with the CTE condition – which cannot be diagnosed without an autopsy of the brain – Omalu and his partners, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) and Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), take on the National Football League, who have allegedly known about the issue for years, but have done nothing to prevent it.

This all has potential to be a very good and hard-hitting film, but the narrative is so mired in superfluous details, like Omalu’s predictable romance with Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), that the movie’s edge is worn down, dull and downright boring in parts.

ConcussionI would have liked to seen a lot more political interaction between Omalu’s team and the NFL, including its commissioner, Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), and a little less personal drama between Omalu and his love interest. The filmmakers needed to ask themselves, ‘What is this movie about?’

Nevertheless, there is some fine acting here by Smith, Brooks and especially David Morse, who doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but still manages to steal the show. They all rise above some rather weak direction and writing by Peter Landesman.

This is not a bad film by any means, but like a passed football that bounces off a receiver’s fingertips, it never achieves the greatness it aspires to. Grade: 6.5/10

Photos © 2015 Columbia Pictures

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About the author

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Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.

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