Do a Shot: when Omalu starts to look into CTE
Do a Shot: (with the strongest liquor): when you see Mike Webster (played by David Morse); trust me, it’s hard to watch
Shotgun a Beer: when you hear “American hero” spouted off
Down a 32 oz: when Luke Wilson makes his appearance and you feel…nothing.
By: Jake Turner (Three Beers) –
Since I was ten years old, I have loved the sport of football. I played it for eight years, I covered it for 11 years. That includes research, NFL films, playbooks, analysis, and play by play. Like football players that prepare for games, I prepare for my future career. Any football fan always knew in the back of their mind that concussions exist in the sport.
While watching the film, Concussion, I realized that I was watching a well-acted, well-intentioned film that at times was handled like a melodramatic TV movie against the NFL.
This explained more than the movie.
Will Smith has had a rough time in Hollywood since his ugly act of nepotism with his son, Jaden. Of course, I’m talking about After Earth, and then he followed it up with a wildly silly crime caper known as Focus (back in February). As film critics and the average film fan know, Smith can act with some of the best. Finally, the actor (not the movie star) returns with his best performance since the 2006 drama The Pursuit of Happyness as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Pittsburgh pathologist. It’s rare to see him embodying a man with such a different (Nigerian) accent and channeling the realism in the character’s actions throughout. Smith accomplishes this from scene to scene.
He shows the compassion of his good heart and the emotions he experiences when he finds this scientific discovery, the existence of CTE, but also heartbreak when he finds out about why the late Mike Webster, former Steelers center, died. In one scene he introduces his findings to the medical board, explaining how many hits to the head Webster took in his life. It was an astounding number to where you hear it- your jaw will drop.
Alec Baldwin (as Dr. Julian Bailes) and Albert Brooks (Omalu’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht) give outstanding supportive performances. Especially Brooks. Is there anything this wonderfully talented man can’t do? Seriously, he was a comedic force in the 80’s and 90’s, he played a brutal crime boss in Drive, and now this.
Smith definitely deserves the accolades.
The film was well-intentioned from the beginning, but it sank ever deeper into the murky telegraphing of a TV movie-like biography. It didn’t dive in deeper with individual scenes with the likes of Webster, Andre Waters, and Dave Duerson- all football players how suffered from CTE. It didn’t give us a chance to relate to the characters’ mental pains, not a chance to grow, to discover. All it did was show one melodramatic lashing out or one on one, then jump to a news reel or an NFL Films clip.
What was with the “American hero” nonsense? I swear I heard that saying more times than anything about CTE and the reasons behind the NFL back then hiding this. It felt fictionalized. I’m not saying what Omalu did wasn’t brave. However, these men chose to play this sport from being a kid to their time on the professional stage. They knew the sacrifices they may face, but I didn’t need it forcefed like watching football was evil.
Frank Gifford had CTE, and he lived a full life to 84.
Talk about undercutting characters and the subject of the film. It’s like CTE was window draping to Omalu’s story. It became more about the doctor than the diagnosis and felt like every time we were about to get to the bottom of CTE’s effects, it would shift back to Omalu’s “American hero” story and we were back to melodramatic territory.
Did you know that Omalu had a wife? The only way you would know is a blink-and-miss it kind of romance; at least I learned she had a fascination with football. Gugu Mbatha-Raw (as Prema Mutiso), though, was great in her few minutes on screen, and packed that slight emotional punch when she was with Smith.
Wanted more of this relationship.
Finally, the NFL isn’t introduced into this until the final half (by then the film was stuck in its telegraphing of events) by throwing Luke Wilson (as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) out there (in unconvincing fashion) with no emotional pulp to it.
Concussion could have been one of the most important films of the year with Will Smith’s incredible performance and pulpy one on one scenes about CTE, but the telegraphed melodrama and “American hero” propaganda sinks it. It’s not a movie you have to rush right out and see, though it does make you look at football in a slightly different way. Hollywood, next time you try to make a movie about a billion-dollar social issue, I highly recommend you leave your politics out of it and just tell the story.