Whether you like it or not, there is no denying that football is America’s sport. I mean, Super Bowl Sunday is as close as you can get to a national holiday as any other day of the year. But it is a violent, brutal sport, and there are side effects to that amount of trauma players receive. Yet just a decade ago, the NFL was denying that there was anything wrong, that any sort of afflictions players received were “isolated incidents.” That’s where Concussion comes in—the real life story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who brought these side effects to light, and it is a fascinating, thought-provoking vehicle driven by a towering performance from Will Smith.
While some might be scratching your head thinking, “well it’s pretty obvious that getting knocked in the head countless is bad for you,” and it is that obvious, but that doesn’t mean that the NFL was doing anything about it, and they weren’t—in fact they were blatantly denying it. So in a way, that is the premise of the movie—discovering the problem is only the beginning, getting the NFL to admit it is the real story.
Facing threats, Omalu still tries to bring to light the discoveries. An honest, hardworking immigrant from Nigeria with an impressive resume, Omalu embodies the American ideal. He is an underdog fighting for what is right. Smith delivers one of his most touching, authentic performances to date—reminding us just how good a dramatic actor he can be after a string of action flicks that didn’t really require much. There are were a couple times where he didn’t even look like himself as he fully transforms into Omalu.
A cutesy romance gets put on the back-burner as he courts Prema (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), another immigrant who urges him forward. For the most part it is a nice reprieve from some unsettling, intense moments, but at times it feels underdeveloped as they advance in their relationship without much chemistry.
As Smith takes centerstage, Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks follow behind, giving solid, effective performances, while some big-name actors such as Luke Wilson and Stephen Moyer seem to have just a few lines, proving them a little expendable. But the real standout among the supporting cast is a brief, raw, and devastating performance from David Morse as former player Mike Webster whose death sets off the investigation.
While it is not wholly anti-football, it certainly raises enough questions to make you wonder how much more has been brushed under the rug. As it is America’s favorite sport, a movie like this could continue the reverberations first set off by Omalu, but for the time being, those who see it will start to question the league itself.
Thanks to a strong leading performance from Will Smith, Concussion—though it is a bit paint-by-numbers—does its job well in raising questions in its audience. Whether or not they will be answered will be determined in the fallout, but I can bet you the NFL is by no means happy by the release of this film. You don’t need to love football to find enjoyment in Concussion, but if you already don’t, you probably will like it even less afterwards.