In many ways, the big problem with Concussion was that we’d just seen a masterclass in telling a real-life story through the medium of feature film. If only it had taken a similarly uncluttered, clear-lensed approach to what is otherwise a rollicking yarn. Look ye below.
FUNNY that a film about the insidious risks of head trauma in contact sports should get released here hours before an Ireland-France rugby match. It is repeatedly against Les Bleus that out-half Jonathan Sexton has suffered concussions, to the point that some have been calling for the 30-year-old to consider his health and retire.
Even more timely is that it also comes just days after the Superbowl, the biggest sports event in the US. The NFL, the body that oversees all things American Football, come out as a corrupt and self-serving corporation in this film by Parkland director Peter Landesman, even if in the last five years it has made some assurances that it is taking chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) very seriously. This probably has a lot to do with the NFL settling to the tune of $1billion with thousands of players who allege that it concealed the truth about head trauma risks.
Central to the lid being blown open on the condition was Nigerian-born Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a forensic neuropathologist. After a former football star is found dead from suspected suicide, Dr Omalu notices microscopic brain wounds during his autopsy. He sets out to publish his findings with help from Alec Baldwin’s ex-team doctor and his boss at the coroner’s office, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).
Naturally, the establishment is none too pleased that this outsider’s findings could potentially bring down a multi billion-dollar entertainment industry and the cornerstone of the US heartland. As Omalu’s evidence increases, so too does NFL resistance.
Concussion outwardly appears to be a sports drama about brain injury but it is actually a hagiography of Dr Omalu, and this weakens it. Landesman’s screenplay (based on Jeanne Marie Laskas’ GQ article, Game Brain) tacks on a soppy romance story (Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays wife Prema) and writes Omalu as a loveable, twinkle-eyed immigrant counting his lucky stars to be in the glorious US of A. Regarding Smith and the recent “Oscars so white” fiasco, his iffy Nigerian accent fully exonerates the Academy’s perceived snub.
First published in the Sunday Independent