Movie Review: Concussion

Concussion features solid performances from its cast, but this aptly named movie makes a forgettable impact as the supposedly fact based drama is diluted into a standard biopic fanfare.

American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic neuropathologist, discovers CTE, a football-related brain trauma, in a pro player and fights for the truth to be known. Omalu’s emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful institutions in the world.

Along with Jennifer Lawrence (Joy) and Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Will Smith stars in another Oscar potential biopic.

Concussion proves to be an engaging drama thanks to deft editing. Footage of football players hitting each other like human cannon balls as cooing commentaries play in the background provides an interesting juxtaposition, especially when previous shots establish the danger of the sport. The decision to focus on the characters’ reaction rather than play out the procedural CSI style is effective in humanizing the whole endeavor.

Will Smith’s understated performance provides emotional weight to the discovery of CTE. He dials down the likeable cocky charisma that insulates him from box office flops and draws audiences to cinemas. Dr. Omalu is a confident and religious man but not a self-righteous devout catholic. Alec Baldwin plays another important old man in a suit, but he does it well enough to become the disillusioned confidant of the pathologist. The rest of the cast in the sidelines are decent enough in providing different perspectives of the issue.

While Concussion does raise awareness on CTE, you can see the movie strain under the pressure of criticizing the most popular sport in America.

“There was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the N.F.L.”, said director Peter Landesman in an article by The New York Times. However he also confirmed that Sony lawyers deleted some material from the film and leaked Sony emails showed that Concussion was altered to prevent NFL protests.

It’s not clear what scenes were deleted but its obvious that the movie glosses over the consequences of Dr. Omalu’s determination to get his findings recognized. The dangers presented are vague. In one scene, his pregnant wife is followed by a suspicious car which suddenly disappears and the plot quickly shifts to a heart tugging moment. In a quickly staged scene his boss gets intimidated by the FBI.

You can’t exactly blame the movie for playing it safe. Zero Dark Thirty instantly fell under heavy criticism for historical accuracy. It’s also a fact that Football is a wealthy institution and a giant corporation.

Still, this prevents Concussion from becoming the whistle blower that it started out in the beginning. The fact based drama devolves into an immigrant tale of a disillusioned man who once believed in the American dream complemented with a contrived love story. This subplot stops the main narrative dead in its tracks and the movie never achieves the impact of its aptly named title.

As per standard biopic fanfare, Concussion finishes with a neatly wrapped up ending. The movie does bring attention to a hotly debated issue that many people aren’t aware of but looks away from the fact that CTE has been covered-up for years. Dr. Omalu is a compelling character, but the importance of his work is effectively muted. It’s not far-fetched to say that a potent warning sign has been turned into an Oscar bait film.

Sadly Concussion’s final image makes an accurate depiction of what the movie leaves us with – the truth is left to watch in the sidelines as the game goes on.

My Rating: 6/10

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