Imagine you are the NFL (National Football League), the biggest and most lucrative sport in America, and some nobody pathologist tells everyone one of the greatest NFL players died because of football. You wouldn’t be very happy would you?
Concussion is the story of Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a pathologist from Pittsburgh who came to America from Nigeria to live the American Dream. When he performs an autopsy on NFL great, Mike Webster, he knows something isn’t right with Webster’s brain. After ordering a series of expensive tests with his own money, Omalu discovers that the repetitive crashes, knocks, and tackles that occur in football damage the brain so badly in some players that irreparable damage is done. The NFL, however, wants nothing to do with Omalu; they drag his name through the mud and deny his claims. But Omalu doesn’t give up, and he perseveres through death threats to himself and his wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the loss of his job and the dismissal of his peers. But with the help of ex-Pittsburgh Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), Omalu fights to be heard by the NFL, and a nation obsessed with football.
Based on real events, Concussion explores the deplorable actions of the NFL at a time when they were being careless with the lives of their players, whom they claimed to support and love. Time and time again, the film discusses how if the existence of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), the disease Omalu discovered in the brains of several footballers, could destroy the very foundation of a game that owns an entire day in America. This fear that something would stop people watching or playing football drove an enormous corporation to put every player in the NFL, college leagues, high school and pee wee football in danger.
Will Smith is flawless as the Nigerian doctor; he gives Omalu so much depth as a purely altruistic character. Having taken the time to study the real Dr Omalu’s work before filming, Smith’s performance is quirky and full of tics. Alec Baldwin plays the same kind of character in Bailes as he does in every other film he’s been in. He is genuinely good at playing one character; the smart and somewhat hard man who are important to the plot but not the main character. But Omalu and Bailes’ relationship is one that provides some humour in a very tense film. Bailes has always been absorbed in the world of football, whereas Omalu is completely baffled by the game and its almost cult like following that brings some incredibly funny moments to Concussion.
With so many agendas colliding with Omalu’s need to expose the truth, you begin to feel sick at the thought of so many lives being gambled with. The film does feel a little over dramatic at times, but it doesn’t overshadow the brilliance of the story. Concussion is a wonderful, yet unnerving film that explores a time in the recent history of sport when important moves were made to protect the lives of athletes after years of deception and misdirection.