What can be said about Concussion outside that it’s Will Smith’s best performance in years? Too bad it’s for a movie mostly plays it safe and isn’t as thrilling or biting as it aspires to be.
I’m not a sports fan, but there have been a number of well-made sports-centric movies that have made it past my disinterest and ultimately ending up being something I genuinely enjoyed. I had hoped that would be the case with Concussion, a movie about the doctor who discovered a severe brain disease in retired professional football players. The script, which was reportedly tweaked to soften its opposition against the NFL, is cliché and fails at weaving together a complex story about a groundbreaking medical health exposé and an immigrant love story.
I suggest checking out Dr. Bennet Omalu’s C.V. when you have a chance. His impressive educational background is how we’re first introduced to the charming Nigerian doctor in a scene where he proudly lists his degrees aloud to a jury. One is wrong to think that Will Smith has to bring his star power a notch down for a role like this. A personality like Omalu’s fits right in with Smith’s natural and captivating screen presence, and Smith makes the most of it to pull us through a difficult story.
Unfortunately, it’s the story where the movie loses its balance. We witness as Omalu’s discovers the disease, naively tries to inform the NFL about it, and in turn, is on the receiving end of the wrath from one of the biggest and richest sports organizations in the world. All the while, Omalu’s personal life starts to blossom as he meets a fellow Nigerian immigrant (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and they fall in love.
There is some nice editing involved as Omalu does what he does best: the science and discovery. The movie establishes a rhythm that works, but as we head into Omalu’s interactions with the NFL, it attempts to become a thriller. The stakes are supposed to be high, but they don’t feel high. The threats are supposed to be dangerous, but they don’t feel dangerous. The only frustrating element that stokes at the audience’s feelings is the NFL’s completely willful arrogance.
As for the love story, Mbatha-Raw is a lovely actress and brings a lot of life to her character, but moving between this story and Concussion’s core storyline messes with the film’s momentum. In the end, it feels like it was all treated as an afterthought merely to fully flesh out Omalu’s real life.
Ultimately, Concussion does get its point across, and while I felt like it could’ve really delved into the problems that arise from taking on a huge and dearly loved organization, I have to give the film credit for not letting off the NFL too easy. Once we have an understanding of how bad this disease is, it’s hard not to wince at every push, slam, and blow. That understanding was much in thanks, not just to Omalu’s whole medical discovery, but seeing these amazing, beautiful football players lose themselves to madness, confusion, and depression and sympathizing with the toll it takes on their family, friends, and fans.
Concussion is now playing in theaters.