Will Smith returns to a leading role as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man behind the exposure of football’s biggest kryptonite, the concussion. Melding forensic science, football, and the American dream, we are given a film that brought us high hopes in regards of story, but in fact, misses the mark on just that. Shaky narrative and softly interpreted real life events do not give the film the weight it deserves and subdues to the fears of upsetting the wrong people e.i. the NFL and the families involved. Thankfully, Will Smith and company deliver adequate performances we are used to seeing all centered in this writer’s hometown of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
Concussions have been at the center of the board meetings across all levels of football here in America and have since changed the landscape of how America’s game is played. When a Nigerian-American forensic pathologist realizes some disturbing effects from head trauma on Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, his life changes forever, and so does the NFL, but not quickly. Respectful and endlessly brilliant, Omalu is a man on a mission to do the right thing, but hits road blocks on his journey to figure out what it takes to be an “American hero” while realizing he just wants to fulfill a heroes duty, and that is helping people. Will Smith as the subdued Omalu is charming and believable but not Smith’s most challenging role. With award level skills and superstar charm, we know Will Smith can do this, but he doesn’t bring it to a level we as audiences hoped for.
The film is beautifully shot with some of the most nostalgic shots of Pittsburgh landmarks including the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field. The narrative that brought the most excitement were the old reels of the classic 70’s Steelers teams and the poetic chaos that were their games en-route to four Superbowls. Other than the Lynn Swann catches and the early deterioration of the late great Mike Webster, there is not much glue keeping us attached to what ends up being a bland and watered down story of something sweeping our nation like a plague of high impact locusts. Highlighing the severe effects of head on collisions and the troubles Omalu faces when trying to prove his research and multiple theories proves aggravating and condemning. It proves that businesses do not care for their employees and the film tells that tale aggressively though not confidently. The only real confidence I felt throughout were the moments with Omalu and his respected peers of Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks). Albert Brooks becomes the real star of the film as the supporter and friend of Omalu and eventually a victim of Omalu’s own findings.
Concussion proves that we should think long and hard about the sport we have deemed a pseudo religion and what it is doing to the men who partake in it as a living. There is history that has not only broken ground for what has come in the sport but as well as what will still approach we the fans and them the players. Sadly, learning this through the film is like trying to get food out of your teeth. You keep trying to pick out that final piece to get relief, but you run out of toothpicks. Later on, you just accept that this little piece of food isn’t going anywhere any time soon and you’re better off just going on with what you intended. Often dull and shockingly uneventful, Concussion doesn’t live up to it’s expectations nor does it tell us information we didn’t already know.
Films like this are usually victims of identity crisis. It borders between an information induced film, but also tries to give us semi-established characters to follow only for them to end up exactly where we assumed they would. Predictability soon becomes the movies downfall and we are left with nothing but a shell of what could have been. Albert Brooks, again, is the standout performance of the film and works perfectly off of Will Smith’s Omalu who looks at Brooks’ Wecht as a father and mentor. In the end, this is an okay film with no glaring flaws beyond narrative, but that’s all you need to disrupt the quality that are the performances and inspirations of the film from a relevant and emotionally disturbing section of reality corporations chose to ignore all for the sake of ego and money.