Concussion (2015)

Director: Peter Landesman
Writer: Peter Landesman
Based on: Jeanne Marie Laskas‘ article Game Brain
Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Arliss Howard, Mike O’Malley, Eddie Marsan, Hill Harper, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Stephen Moyer, Richard T. Jones, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson
Seen on: 22.2.2016

Dr. Bennett Omalu (Will Smith) is a pathologist, specialized in neuropathology. He works in Pittsburgh where he is known for being thorough but maybe also a little strange. One day, a former football player’s body – Mike Webster (David Morse) – comes to Omalu. As he conducts his autopsy, Omalu is more and more intrigued by the case: Webster went from fame and glory to absolute destitution, apparent psychosis and suicide in only a short amount of time. And Omalu suspects that brain damage is the reason for his behavior – damage that he got from playing football. But the NFL is not only not interested in hearing his concerns, they are trying to prevent him from finding out more about it.

Concussion tells an interesting story and it does tell it rather effectively. It is hampered by the fact though that it is a very recent story and that obviously they were trying very hard not to scratch too much at recent wounds.


Coming from Europe where American Football isn’t that much of a thing (soccer is more our poison here) gives me a more distanced perspective which makes two things about the film a little weird: for one, the fact that people didn’t realize before that it would be harmful for your brain to get repeatedly hit over the head. That seems only logical to me and since it is well-known that boxing has detrimental effects on brains, I would have thought that people knew about football as well and that it wasn’t something that was suspected, but kept under wrap.

The second thing that was odd was the placating stance the film took toward football itself. More than once we are reassured that everybody loves football, that football is a beautiful sport (those moments in particular put great question marks in my head because I don’t see the beauty. But then again I don’t really get sports, so don’t take me as the standard), that it is simply important that people a) know what they’re getting into, b) solutions are being found, and c) everybody gets the help they need. And while I tend to agree with the last part, the way the film presented it, I felt like the major motivation for this stance was so that the NFL wouldn’t sue. This culminates in portraying Omalu as a patriotic hero, which is only slightly absurd since Omalu comes from Nigeria. You could maybe say he is a medical hero, but making his quest into a USAmerican patriotic duty is strange.

Concussion1Be that as it may, the film progresses at a good pace and, as I said, it tells and interesting story. The cast is good. Will Smith is the focus, of course, and he carries the film with ease. But I particularly liked that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje doesn’t have to talk with a Nigerian accent for once and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is always a joy to watch, despite the fact that her role as Prema was very much reduced and Prema’s love story with Omalu was a little less romantic and a little more creepy than the film seems to think.

Altogether, Concussion was a nice film. Not great, but good enough and with an important, interesting story at its heart. It should have been perfect Oscar material for Will Smith (that he didn’t get a nomination is another telling factor about the racism in the comittee), but other than that it just doesn’t really convince.

Concussion2Summarizing: If you stumble upon it, you could do worse than to watch it but you probably don’t have to go out of your way to seek it out.

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