"Will Smith Takes on the NFL"
When going up against a giant, armed with only a stone, a slingshot and nerve, there is an understanding that the chances of success are slim to none. What makes someone face seemingly insurmountable odds knowing the possible outcome is an unfavorable one? Perhaps it is the notion of making an attempt against the opposition in the name of what is fair and just. It shouldn’t be easy for the giant to achieve his objective, as it will not be easy for the little man to achieve his. Accomplished doctor and lifelong student, Dr. Bennett Omalu (Will Smith) faces a similar challenge, one that rightfully takes its place among the countless other David-and-Goliath tales that deserve to be told.
A humble, kind-hearted, god-fearing man, Dr. Omalu takes great pride in his work. As a forensic pathologist, a big part of his job consists of conducting autopsies on people to determine how they died, much like solving a puzzle or riddle. Omalu gets perhaps the puzzle of his career when he comes across the body of former NFL player Mike Webster (David Morse). A relatively healthy man who ends up dead at 50 years old. Confusing, to say the least. Once Omalu, solves the puzzle and sheds some light on startling discovery, he is almost immediately met with hostility and disdain by the NFL and anyone associated with it. What ensues is one man’s crusade against an organization that has little regard for the health and the lives of its players, that is unless it concerns a potential lost investment.
Will Smith unsurprisingly shines in this film. His Dr. Omalu has no traces of the ‘Will Smith’ character audiences have become familiar with over the course of Smith’s career. His near mastery of the Nigerian accent certainly helps things in that department. Here, he becomes an easily likable man who is just trying to do what is right and does not understand why in America, a country he has dreamed of reaching in hopes of a better life, does not seem to value the morals of truth and justice.
Smith is understated and plays Omalu with a quiet confidence; his footing is firm. Make no mistake, this is the Will Smith hour. He is the reason to see this film. That said, he does have sound support from some strong actors in the form of Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks as Dr. Julian Bailes and Dr. Cryil Wecht respectively. Gugu Mbatha-Raw adds a soft touch to the proceedings and comes off as more authentic than most women in stories like these. She is not around for very long, but she makes her scenes count.
Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is stellar and striking with its gorgeous, sweeping shots of the old steel town of Pittsburg really making the location pop. Sure, every location is depicted and handled very well, but nowhere do the locations come alive as much as in Pittsburg. James Newton Howard’s score is as compelling as it should be and does not overpower the action or the moments of contemplation for the characters. There are great points where Howard’s music is not used at all to great effect, but when it is used, it works well.
Concussion has a lot going for it. It attempts to tackle, the issue of sports-related injuries and urges its audience to think about the seriousness of such things and the potential for long term illness as a result. Does it paint a negative picture of the NFL? Sure does. Does it do so entertainingly? It tries to in a non-flashy way, but not at the expense of Dr. Omalu’s story or of the film’s central issue. The movie adds some dimension and breaks from the central issue by giving us glimpses into Dr. Omalu’s life outside of his scrubs as a church-going man, who meets his future wife and begins a relationship with her. While their relationship is treated with the kind of respect and class that is rare in films today, and it is a nice touch, it does not always add to the story. At times, it feels as if Mbatha-Raw’s Prema is just around to provide Omalu with guidance and sound advice when he loses his way. Maybe that is necessary, but the drawback though, is there isn’t as much depth to her character, which could probably be said of some of the other characters, with the the exception of Alec Baldwin’s Dr. Bailes.
This film will likely not put off any football fans from finishing out this season as the milestone Super Bowl 50 swiftly approaches. It might however, call to mind the football great Junior Seau along with other fallen former players and perhaps spark discussions about what the league is doing to continue making the game of football safer.