The quick staccato of coaches’ voices shouting out plays mixes with the sound of crashing helmets, and echoing whistles pound your eardrums as a plain black image emerges onto the screen. Concussion brings the audience to the setting of an average football field, then cuts to the induction of Pittsburgh Steelers center, Mike Webster, into the NFL hall of fame. Webster notably emphasizes in his speech that the only thing players have to do is “finish the game. If we finish the game, we win.” While this saying may appear motivational and reflect the dedication that football players have towards the game, when it is combined with clips of brutal physical injuries that people have experienced on the field, it makes one wonder whether finishing the game should really be the main concern. This initiates the conversation on the issue that the film delves into.
The movie shifts focus onto Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who performs autopsies on the deceased to figure out the reason for their death. Portrayed by Will Smith, Dr. Omalu is an immigrant from Nigeria who moved to America to start a better life. To my naïve ear, I thought his accent was convincing and served its purpose, but many critics and fans familiar with the language were not exactly impressed with Smith’s take on Dr. Omalu’s accent.
Even though his speech may not have been very impressive, I found the depiction of Omalu’s actions and the way he performed his autopsies intriguing. The careful and precise motions along with the classical music playing in the background made his job seem more like an art rather than a science. In this way I feel that Smith excelled as an actor in the film.
Noticeably, the science behind the film and the focus on the NFL players who suffered from brain damage were the most interesting parts. Aside from Webster, Concussion also included athletes Justin Strzelczyk, Terry Long, Andre Waters, and Dave Duerson, all of whom faced similar struggles and fates from their many years of football. It is Dr. Omalu who first discovers the effects of the constant buildup of head trauma by examining slides of samples of the player’s brains. He reacts in disbelief to the findings—“my god”—as he fumbles with the realization of what he just discovered.
Referring to the health issue as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the disease is labeled as the reason for football players’ headaches, hallucinations, and inability to think properly. Concussion does a powerful portrayal of the problems that CTE leads to. The characters of Webster and the others are self-harmful and hearing voices, and face a constant struggle of trying to escape the pain in their head. I found the depiction of the effect CTE had on Webster to be the most captivating as his character went from a prestigious hall of fame inductee to a homeless man living in a truck, ripping out his own teeth and supergluing them back in.
Due to the medical science and discoveries about CTE being the most significant and engaging part of the movie, I do not think there needed to be the inclusion of Omalu’s personal life or relationship with his wife. Smith may be able to accurately play a doctor, but his cold persona and rather awkward advances towards his female lead (Gugulethu Sophia Mbatha) did not make their relationship convincing, and was overall not necessary for the story line.
Although the film brought to light many of the issues with football as a sport, and the danger it poses on the individuals to play it, Concussion definitely went above and beyond in making the NFL out to be the bad guy in all of this. Granted, yes, in real life the commissioners did not handle the problem of CTE properly; but as someone who religiously watches football every Sunday, it was a bit disappointing to see the NFL trashed and transformed into an evil entity. Overall, Concussion is worth seeing in order to be exposed to the neurological effects of CTE and gain more insight, but the acting, dialogue, and plot is nothing worthwhile.
IMAGE TAKEN from theguardian.com