Tuesday, December 22, 2015

“Concussion”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new drama, “Concussion”, starring Will Smith. 


When a physician’s autopsies uncover mysterious deaths that may have been the fault of The National Football League, will he be able to inform the public before the league has him silenced?


As a pathologist in America’s Steel City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Nigerian-born physician Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) routinely performs autopsies in the office of The Medical Examiner.  His career starts to take an unusual turn when a disturbing pattern develops:  former players for the town’s local professional football team are suddenly turning up dead at a relatively young age and at an alarming frequency.  As Dr. Omalu performs each autopsy, he gradually uncovers a distressing pattern:  each cadaver is suffering from some form of brain damage. 

Facing mounting opposition from people who are of the opinion that this foreigner is trying to destroy the great American game of football, Omalu finds support from his boss,  Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), who encourages him to to continue his investigations.  Despite other physicians questioning his findings, he is contacted by Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), a former team physician for The National Football League. Dr.  Bailes tells Omalu that he feels somewhat invested in Omalu’s findings because he has personally known a number of NFL players, many of whom led difficult lives after retirement; he offers to help Omalu any way he can.

With the news of Omalu’s discoveries gaining greater media attention, the NFL is beginning to get nervous that their rather lucrative business is at risk.  As a result, the league chooses to fight back by discrediting Omalu’s findings by having their own experts speak out on the topic, effectively disproving his theories.  Ultimately, they threaten Omalu with legal action that may result in him not only losing his job, but also being imprisoned.  Finding both his livelihood and freedom at risk, will Omalu continue his research or can he be convinced to remain silent?   


Given that “Concussion” is a major Hollywood release, it’s truly remarkable how poorly written its screenplay is.  While it may forever remain a well-kept secret exactly how many drafts the script underwent, it’s hard to believe that the final draft was the version the producers found acceptable to commit to film.  Particularly noteworthy (for all of the wrong reasons) is the dialog, which is trite, obvious and predictable.  If you want a lesson on how to take a perfectly good story and ruin it in a big fashion, “Concussion” is a great example of doing precisely that. 

While this may have been Will Smith’s attempt at garnering acting awards (or at least nominations), there’s very little to recommend this movie.  Not that there’s much wrong with his performance, it’s just that the otherwise poor quality of the film proves to be a sufficient distraction to the point that all you can remember is its less-than-subtle attempts at laying out its case (especially embarassing is Smith watching the head-to-head collisions between high school football players in the final scene of the motion picture).  The inartfulness of the script hits you over the head so hard, you’ll feel as though you’re a victim of blunt force trauma – appropriately so, given the title “Concusion”. 

The subject of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy has been much in the news the past few years.  Omalu, the real-life physician whose remarkable story is partly chronicled in “Concussion”, is an incredible man with impeccable credentials.  It is truly a pity that neither subject got a better movie.  For those who really want to learn more about CTE, people might be better served by the PBS television series “Frontline”; they have an episode called “League Of Denial” which can be viewed online; it’s definitely worth checking out. 

Concussion (2015) on IMDb

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