Movie Review: Concussion

From the writer of fellow biographical sleeper hits like Kill the Messenger and Parkland, comes yet another biographical flick that shines, even in the shadows of a flawed final product. Concussion, based on the experiences of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, offers up a profound tale of retribution and uncovering the truth, while also exposing one of the most shocking secrets behind the National Football League. Confident with its plot, juggling a conspiracy thriller with a hopeful immigrant tale, the film delivers a compelling story, but definitely has a few stumbles along the way. 

Having moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from his home in Nigeria, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) makes a quiet life for himself as a forensic pathologist at the town's coroner's office. While judged often for his unusual methods by his peers, Omalu is content with how he works and how he lives. When news of legendary Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster being found dead suddenly sparks Omalu's attention, the pathologist takes action immediately after finding out just how the man died. Soon discovering a new disorder he coins chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Omalu realizes that the cause for this drastic disorder is the many impacts to the head football players receive while in the field. Taking his findings directly to the National Football League, where he finds both enemies and allies, Omalu puts his life -- and lives of thousands of athletes -- on the line as we works to expose the NFL's darkest secret.

A mixture of a sports film -- a genre that I can endure most of the time, given the sport -- and an intriguing biopic, I was left conflicted as I walked in to see this film. With a plot involving the NFL, and football being a sport I could usually care less about, I was worried that the film might end up like a football documentary or something. I was surprised, however, when football -- even as the central focus -- didn't populate the film as much as I thought. Now, I have nothing against football fans, I myself just never saw the great appeal in the sport. The film, with still enough football to appease fans, ended up being mostly focused on its central character, Dr. Bennet Omalu. Forced into caring about the sport as well, tackling the massive conglomerate of the NFL in his mission to save lives, Omalu and his story fuel this film, making for a pretty decent biopic. That being said, even for the ones who care even less about the sport than me, they can still find something in this film to appreciate.

One of the main things to appreciate in the film would have to be Will Smith. Leading the show as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the passionate pathologist who gives up his day-time job for a shot at becoming an American hero, Smith returns to the biographical scene to portray this conflicted man. After bringing his unique talent to biographical films like The Pursuit of Happyness and Ali, where he also played men battling great feats from homelessness to winning the title, Smith wears a sincere smile and a ray of confidence as he portrays Dr. Omalu. While not as impacting as his earlier roles, that sincere nature he plays the character with lacking some emotional force at times, Smith still manages to shine. Sporting a Nigerian accent and the strong will of the pathologist, Smith brings a personal effect to the character, making it a worthy performance in my eyes.

The rest of the cast, including a Louisianan Alec Baldwin as Dr. Julian Bailes and Albert Brooks as Dr. Cyril Wecht, acted well against leading man Will Smith, breathing life into the men who changed how we see the NFL and its health-related methods today. While they may not have been as memorable as Smith's lead, they provided enough power as supporting characters should to make their presence just as important. Another supporting character I enjoyed was the love interest/emotional supporter of Smith's Omalu, Prema Mutiso, played by actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw. A fellow immigrant from Africa like Omalu, the two connected quickly in the film, as the pathologist's lone-wolf attitude faded as he saw himself in the woman. Smith and Mbatha-Raw played well together, even if their love story in the film might have felt a bit rushed.

Another thing to appreciate about this film would have to be the audacity it had to make this film happen, as the wounds of the NFL are still very much fresh in the eyes of many Americans. Tackling a topic that caused so much criticism -- toward both the organization and Omalu's findings -- the film may not go the full distance in its final product, but at least it delivered a profound story that many of us knew nothing about. While the story may lack some of the excitement of other political thrillers out there, it does manage to stand strong with its cast, Smith especially pushing the film along. Even if it may not be for everyone, the story isn't just about football or concussions, it's about determination, one thing that we all strive for every day of our lives. Whether that determination will get you arrested or worse, that's for you to decide.

Overall, while Concussion may not make it into my top 10 best films this year, it did offer a pleasing post-Christmas biopic to enjoy with the family. While I'm not the biggest football fan out there, I could still appreciate the story for what it truly was: one man fighting for something he knew to be true, and something he knew would put a huge target on his back. With powerful performances from Will Smith and Albert Brooks, and a story that felt like a mix between a profound thriller and at times a lengthy documentary, Concussion definitely had more than a few flaws, but made up for it with more than a few positives here and there. I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys biographical films, as well as sports films, as the presence of the central head-banging sport is still there for football fans to enjoy.

I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its memorable and serious performance by Will Smith, its flawed pacing and plot that managed to deliver a half-baked political thriller to enjoy, and the significant weight behind its true story of how one man exposed a secret that was killing off our nation's most prized sources of entertainment.

Even if Concussion didn't make it into my list of the top 10 best films of 2015, there are plenty more awesome films that did. From the adrenaline rush that was Mad Max: Fury Road to the unexpected marvel that was Beasts of No Nation, stay tuned this week for my list of my most memorable films I saw this past year! Remember to follow and share for more exciting things to come in 2016!

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