Specialising in the “science of death”, Will Smith plays Dr Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist in this drama come thriller, based on real events. During a routine autopsy on Pittsburgh Steelers hero Mike Webster, Omalu discovers evidence of brain damage caused by the traumas of playing in the NFL. So begins a fascinating, albeit dull, David versus Goliath fight against mass corporation involving conspiracy theories, whistle-blowing and personal sacrifice.
From the outset, Omalu is portrayed as an archetypal outsider. A Nigerian Doctor who talks to bodies, refuses to reuse scalpels and even worse, doesn’t watch football. He does not fit in with the other citizens of Pittsburgh and this is heightened when he discovers that America’s national pastime is fundamentally dangerous. He soon realises that he must sacrifice his own American Dream if he is to pursue his crusade against the NFL and reveal a damaging truth to the world.
The casting of Will Smith to play Omalu was an inspired decision. Of all his strengths as an actor, arguably Smith’s greatest quality is that he is thoroughly likeable and this allows the audience to get behind Omalu from the film’s very beginning. Smith plays the character with passion and dignity and again shows his credentials to pursue more serious future roles. But be warned, his Nigerian accent is inconsistent and at times, poor. Indeed, it almost sounds as if it his character that is suffering from concussion as his accent goes through a full range within a matter of seconds. Luckily, this is not too detracting.
Despite having an interesting subject with which to create an exciting conspiracy thriller, the film suffers various problems far beyond the misgivings of Smith’s accent. Firstly, despite an interesting topic, the film develops in a conventional and unoriginal manner. Omalu is persecuted and ostracised, then threatened, then meets a whistle blower and it all feels like this has been done before. Unfortunately, in Will Smith’s case it has, in the much superior Enemy of the State. Secondly, other than a scene in which Omalu’s wife believes that she is being followed, there is no sense of impending threat or danger to make the film intense or exciting. Indeed, the most meaningful threat to Omalu is that he may lose his job and have to go back to Nigeria. Not quite the stuff of conspiracy thrillers.
The NFL owns a day of the week. The same day the Church used to own.
More importantly, the film suffers as it is not really inspirational and subsequently doesn’t work story-wise. Yes, what Omalu did and achieved, particularly as an outsider, is impressive. But essentially, Goliath won. Whilst the NFL did finally admit there was a substantive link between brain damage and American football, many of you who watch it or at least saw the Super Bowl, will know that nothing seems to have changed. Perhaps this is a story that has been brought to the big screen a few years too early.
Finally, in an Ironic twist, the most inspirational story to emerge from this film, is the one we don’t see. That is the self-sacrifice and punishment it takes in order to make it in the NFL. Littered with various facts proving that “God did not intend us to play football”, the film subsequently puts the audience in awe of those who do, in spite of the potential consequences.
Concussion is therefore, an unfortunate reflection of its title. At times muddled and without fully knowing its identity or purpose, the film takes an interesting premise and staggers towards a dull conclusion in an unoriginal manner.
Reviewed by David Sanders