Nobody can stop Will Smith! Not even the NFL!
Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a Nigerian immigrant who performs autopsy’s in Alleghany County. Not only is he brilliant, but he’s also dedicated to his job so much that he believes that even the smallest detail can matter when it comes to deciding why a person did something, or just how exactly they died. But when NFL legend Mike Webster (David Morse) winds up dead from an apparent suicide, Omalu stumbles upon a shocking discovery: Although Webster was only 50-years-old, he was acting in ways that a man nearly 30 years older would be acting with Alzheimer’s. Except, here’s the kicker, Webster didn’t have Alzheimer’s; instead, he just took one too many hits to the head and it’s here that Omalu decides to study this idea himself, forcing him to put in his own time and money into the project. Eventually, it all pays off and Omalu discovers that Webster, along with countless other NFL players are dealing with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and now, it’s up to Omalu to let the NFL, as well as the rest of the world, know of the dangers it promises. However, being a billion-dollar corporation, the NFL decides not to listen, which leaves Omalu to take matters into his own hands. Matters which, honestly, can tend to do more harm than actual good.
Whistleblower movies, despite their importance and relevancy, no matter how many years go by, always seem to have a tough time working as well as they should. For one, it depends on the cause; if people feel as if the cause someone is “blowing the whistle” about, doesn’t have enough of an impact, then they won’t care once all goes to hell. Speaking of everything going to hell, it’s quite obvious that once the word gets out and the whistleblower’s identity is made known to the big, bad and evil corporation being spoken-out against, then they will go through all sorts of tense, almost life-threatening situations that will have them rethink the decision they made to open their mouths up in the first place.
Concussion is that same kind of movie that goes down the same alleyways and roads, but at the same time, that doesn’t defeat the fact that the cause it’s fighting for isn’t important. It’s just that, you know, what with Spotlight coming out this year and all, we’ve seen just how well “the whistleblower” movie can be made. While there’s no denying that the Catholic Church covering up countless acts of sexual abuse is perhaps a more jaw-dropping and intriguing topic to go at, Concussion makes it very clear that the issue going on currently with the NFL isn’t one that’s going to go away one day and that be the end of it. Instead, it’s going to continue to go on and on and on, until there’s not a single sane mind left in the NFL and just about every player imaginable, has either completely lost their minds, or killed themselves.
In other words, the NFL does not look pretty in Concussion, which makes me wonder just what was apparently cut-out in the first place to ensure that Sony didn’t face any legal action on behalf of the NFL.
Regardless, the NFL, as portrayed in Concussion, is not a very loving, caring or kind organization – instead, they’re nothing more than just a bunch of heartless, greedy creatures who are more concerned with the thickness of their wallets, rather than the well-being of their own players that make them so rich to begin with. That CTE and brain trauma within the NFL is already a very current and already developing issue, sort of makes Concussion feel like it’s missing out on some bits and pieces of info, but for the most part, it gets right, what it needs to get right.
For one, writer/director Peter Landesman does not lose sight of what makes this story hit (pun sort of intended) as hard as it does. There’s a few scenes where Landesman shines the focus on Dr. Omalu and shows just what it is exactly that’s going on wrong with these player’s brains and why it is that this problem can’t be seen right away, but rather, after the player is already dead and gone. Even though we see plenty of these real life circumstances play-out in the film, it’s still effective to hear it all come from the mouth of a person who clearly seems to know what he’s talking about, as well as a person who actually cares.
Yet, like I said before, the NFL does not play well, according to the film, and it’s what sets up a pretty tense battle between Dr. Omalu and the billion-dollar corporation.
It’s the typical David and Goliath story that, we so often see, yet, don’t actually get all that wrapped-up into. Here, Landesman makes it clear early-on that he’s behind Omalu’s back every step of the way and shows that he’s just trying to make things better – not just for himself, or the NFL, but for the players who make a living off of playing football for said organization. However, there’s no pretentiousness or inferior complex to be found with Omalu; he simply just wants to keep more and more players from dying, which is why he cares so much to begin with.
Not to mention that he wants to be a fully-fledged and adored American citizen, which the film smartly focuses on and brings up every so often. Still though, if there’s an issue with Concussion, it’s that whenever the film focuses on Omalu’s own personal life, with his girlfriend and her own problems, the movie seems like a bit of a drag and not all that interesting. It’s not that it doesn’t feel pertinent to the story, it’s just that it lacks the same kind of angered energy found in the parts of the movie where it’s Omalu trying his hardest to remind those within the NFL of what’s going on and why they should stop acting like fools, pay attention already, and accept the fact.
This is, of course, to say that as Dr. Bennett Omalu, Will Smith is great. Then again, how could he not be? The dude’s charismatic as hell and, every chance he gets, gives a subtle power to Omalu that you really do feel for this guy, even when it seems like his voice is being heard loud enough, or even at all. The fact that Smith himself is adopting an African accent for this role made me a bit worried, but honestly, after the first five minutes, it was easy to forget that I was watching the Fresh Prince and instead, was just watching as one simple and kind man, singlehandedly tried to take down the NFL.
While time will tell if he’s still fully successful or not, there’s no denying that Concussion will have you look at the NFL in a way different light than ever before.
For better, but mostly, for worse.
Consensus: Despite a few hiccups in the narrative, Concussion benefits from a strong central performance from Will Smith, as well as a relevant message about how it’s maybe time for the NFL to wake up, smell the cauliflower, and gain a conscience.
7 / 10