Will Smith has certainly had an odd career trajectory jumping from clean rap music, to the hilarious 90’s defining television classic The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, before becoming a summer blockbuster king. But lately his career has taken an almost reverse “Mcconaissance” with critical and commercial disappointments such as, Seven Pounds, After Earth, and Focus. Concussion is unfortunately another disappointing outing from the former blockbuster king. The film is a dull production about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or C.T.E.’s discovery, and its potential causative link: football.
Will Smith does a decent job as the film’s lead, Dr. Bennett Omalu, but his accent is still bad (you just get used to it). Alec Baldwin phones in a performance as Dr. Julian Bailes, a former NFL team doctor seeking redemption for his role in potentially exacerbating players injuries while he worked for the N.F.L. Dr. Bennett Omalu is portrayed as an extremely intelligent and caring pathologist from Nigeria. Omalu discovers C.T.E. after doing an autopsy on Pittsburgh Steelers legend, Mike Webster. Omalu sets out to prove that repetitive head trauma due to playing football can lead to this new disease, C.T.E. But the best parts of the film are the actors portraying the players suffering from C.T.E. Each player breaks down in a disturbing manner before ultimately committing suicide. Webster’s fall from grace in particular is hard to watch. Furthermore, the weaving of brutal football hits that punctuate each montage of scientific research is simple but effective. The film limits the time these players are on screen and thus undermines its own emotional heart.
Despite its well-done player tragedies, Concussion is a plodding and often boring experience. It is way too long, and has at least three different endings. The film’s muted washed out grey, blue, and black palettes give it a somber tone. Unfortunately the palettes only exacerbate Concussion's dull pacing. Furthermore, a pointless love story is shoehorned into the film and it’s an enormous subplot that goes nowhere. This is a bit of a nitpick, but the film also has the bad habit of showing Pittsburgh’s skyline or stadium from an aerial shot before the start of every other new scene. It's repetitive and annoying, I get it guys, we’re still in Pittsburgh.
Many of the film’s fundamental problems can be traced back to its troubled production, which like Spectre, was leaked during the Sony email fiasco. Huge parts of the film were changed or edited out completely (Burke). Whether this was due to appease the NFL or not is irrelevant. What matters here is the final film, and it fails to indict the NFL for its “concussion problem”. The NFL hasn’t said anything about what it knew, nor if it engaged in any deliberate blowback regarding Omalu and his research (Wagner). This makes it difficult for the film to portray the NFL as a malevolent monster. The NFL appears during the last half of the film, and when it does, the onus of the concussion problem is put on several individuals rather than the organization (Wagner). Concussion focuses on a few bad apples within the organization like the pompous Dr. Elliot Pellman, while NFL and its leadership are portrayed as generally aware but inept and ignorant with regard to the full scope of the "concussion problem".
Concussion is a boring, ineffective, and wasted opportunity. Not only because of the mishandling of the true story, but also because this is a real, complicated, and ongoing issue. The positive things that can be said about the film, such as bringing awareness to C.T.E., are completely tarnished by its unfocused and un-compelling direction. It fumbles its portrayal of the N.F.L. and its reaction to the discovery of C.T.E. This is almost certainly due to the complicated legal and scientific issues involved (Wagner). A point the film tries to make, during one of its many endings, is that knowing you can get irreversible brain damage playing football is better than not knowing at all. Spin it however you want, the movie is accepting defeat. Concussion likens the players to soldiers and concludes that like a soldier, the NFL player will just have to accept that he may die horrifically. It’s now 2016 and we are no closer to solving the concussion problem and yet we have known about the correlation now for over a decade. As long as the N.F.L. rakes in billions of dollars, and the American public continues tuning in, I doubt there will be a solution anytime soon.
TLDR: Concussion is a plodding, toothless dramatization of the discovery of C.T.E. by an African doctor and the pushback by the NFL to discredit him. 1.5/5 Stars.
Burke, Timothy. "How Sony Changed Concussion To Make The NFL (Or Their Lawyers) Happy." Deadspin. Gawker Media, 28 Dec. 2015. Web. Jan. 2016.
Wagner, Kyle. "The NFL Didn't Have To Screw Will Smith's Concussion Movie, Hollywood Already Had." Deadspin. Gawker Media, 2 Sept. 2015. Web. Jan. 2016.