By Nico Beland
Movie Review: B (3 stars)
From director, Peter Landesman (Kill the Messenger) and produced by Ridley Scott (Alien, Gladiator, The Good Wife) comes a medical-sports drama based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian pathologist who fought against the NFL to suppress his research on the brain damage suffered by American football players, Concussion. That’s two movies in a row now that I reviewed that were based on true stories, the other being Joy, but I think I liked this film a little more than Joy, probably because of Bennet Omalu being portrayed by Will Smith (Men in Black trilogy, Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness), like many of his other films, he’s very charming and engaging as an actor, however in this film it’s a very different performance compared to his other films, mainly because of his convincing Nigerian accent.
But Smith aside, the film isn’t a direct sports drama like we’re used to today, it’s much more of a medical drama like the shows ER and House and more recently last year’s movie, Heaven is for Real. It doesn’t focus directly on the football sport but rather the brain damage that several American football players suffered in 2002, and it’s done well.
I wouldn’t say it’s Oscar material, but it’s informative and entertaining and they picked a great time to release the film, because in 2015 the real Bennet Omalu officially became a U.S. citizen. And Smith does a fine job portraying Omalu, though I’m not sure if it’s a perfect representation of the man, but his performance shines through and he brings on the emotion.
After former Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster is found dead, pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) handles his autopsy and discovers that he had severe brain damage. He makes the connection that Webster’s death was caused by several blows to head during football games, a disorder he calls chronic-traumatic-encephalopathy (CTE).
With the help of former Steelers team doctor, Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin-Beetlejuice, 30 Rock, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation), neurologist, Steven T. DeKosky (Eddie Marsan-21 Grams, Mission: Impossible III, V for Vendetta), and county coroner, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks-Finding Nemo, The Simpsons Movie, Drive), Omalu publishes a paper on what he discovered regarding the CTE, but it is initially dismissed by the NFL who wants to cover it all up and lie to the players who could risk brain damage and even death.
Omalu will do whatever it takes to get the message across and fight for the lives of American football players, whether they want it or not.
The film also stars Paul Reiser (Diner, Aliens, Mad About You) as Dr. Elliot Pellman, Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Doctor Who, Larry Crowne, Belle) as Prema Mutiso, and Luke Wilson (Scream 2, Rushmore, My Dog Skip) as NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Overall, Concussion is a solid dramatization of the true story, for the most part it’s accurate to what actually happened, like I said before, Smith is a strong take on Omalu, the football games, medical operations, and drama are intense and gripping, and the directing is pretty solid. Though some of the characters feel like they were made up just for the movie, but they don’t distract from the real people being portrayed.
I feel I mostly enjoyed the movie because of Will Smith because he is such a likable and engaging actor, no matter what movie he’s in, I usually have a great time watching him on screen (MOST of the time!). This time, I found it very surreal listening to Will Smith with a Nigerian accent because I’m so used to his other performances in the past, but he sells it and it’s more proof that he’s got mad talent.
To the film’s credit, it doesn’t follow the traditional sports-drama formula, it’s not about a particular team and it’s not the clichéd underdog story we’ve heard a million times. The hero in this sports film is a doctor who saved football players’ lives through medical procedures and battling against the NFL.
Don’t expect a Remember the Titans or Invincible style of storytelling here, but if you can handle some intense drama and a different Will Smith performance, this is one Concussion you should gladly get.