SYNOPSIS: When former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster (David Morse) commits suicide in 2002, Nigerian-born neurologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is tasked with diagnosing the reasons behind his death. He discovers that Webster had suffered severe head trauma which was brought upon by his many years playing in the NFL. When other ex-players start taking their own lives, Omalu decides to tackle the NFL head on over their failure to protect the athletes which results in the organisation attempting to tarnish his career.
The aftereffects of competing in physical sport are presented in compelling detail in Peter Landesman’s insightful medical drama Concussion. Spearheaded by a career-best performance by Hollywood superstar Will Smith, the film does a commendable job in explaining so much about the shocking diagnosis that has affected past and present NFL players.
Landesman controls his direction and writing effectively with Oscar-winning editor William Goldenberg keeping the film cut to a decent pace particularly when focusing on the medical-based scenes. While this drama focuses more on the effects of those involved in American football, audiences in the UK can relate to this topic when it comes to watching rugby players coming off bad during all those scrums and tackles. When the case becomes the primary subject, you can’t help but be fascinated by Omalu’s hard work in what would ultimately become a David vs. Goliath story. The pressure he would come under from the NFL is captured subtly but the human cost of his investigation is only covered powerfully in the film’s final quarter.
Admittedly, the scenes spent on him and his lover-turned-wife Prima do become a distraction even when she shows support towards his findings. You can’t help but feel as though these moments steal the attention away from the topic in hand but there are certainly worse romantic storylines elsewhere in cinema!
There’s also a silly sub-plot involving Bennet’s feud with one of his surgeon colleagues which features prominently in the first half but disappears for the remainder of the film. Luckily, there is plenty of focus made on the former players particularly Mike Webster whose tragic story dominates the opening fifteen minutes which eventually links everything together.
Given his mixed roles in recent years, Will Smith is back to his charismatic best as he produces an impeccable performance as a man desperate to prove himself in America and risk his career in order to help those affected by the head traumas. It also handy that Smith’s Nigerian accent is mesmerising as he dominates the film in many key moments especially when throwing the gauntlet down on those questioning his expertise. It’s a shame that this performance was ignored by the Academy especially as it has led to the “Oscars so White” controversy that has been led by the former Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and his missus Jada Pinkett Smith.
However the heavyweight star is ably backed up by a well-appointed support cast which includes pretty British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Bennet’s future partner Prima), Alec Baldwin (as former Pittsburgh team doctor Julian Bailes) and Albert Brooks (as Bennet’s cynical but supportive boss Cyril Wecht). Character actor David Morse also makes a big impact in his limited screen-time whilst donning excellent makeup that enables him to look very similar to the real-life Mike Webster.
Though it tends to devote more time on Omalu’s personal life than the case itself, Concussion does well in highlighting the main issues about physical sport and is strengthened further by a grand turn by Mr Smith.