Concussion, starring Will Smith, is a movie that I’ve been looking forward to all year. It’s safe to say that my expectations for the film we’re really high. By expectations I mean two things; the quality of the overall film and the way the content was handled as far as portraying the discovery of CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is the disease caused by continuous head injuries, and the NFL dealing with the issue. The best wording I can use to describe Concussion as a movie is just above average. I don’t think it’s a great film but I don’t think it’s horrible either. Certain elements in the movie are handled very well, while some things, including what I mention above, are not.
If you’re reading this review then I’m assuming you’ve either seen the movie or at least know the subject matter that it’s attempting to tell a story about. I’m not going to take time to explain what the movie is about so I suggest looking up the synopsis or watching the trailer that I posted above. I’d also like to point out that I am a casual fan of football and the NFL but I wouldn’t consider myself a die-hard fan or someone who is exceptionally knowledgeable about the sport or the concussion elements involved. I’m just a guy who reviews movies and this one happens to be about football, the NFL and a doctor who discovers the permanent damage playing the sport can do to someone’s brain.
First, I will start with my positives for Concussion.
Will Smith’s Performance– Without exaggerating at all, I honestly think this might be Smith’s best performance ever. It’s very difficult for someone as popular and recognizable as Will Smith to disappear into a role but I truly saw the character he was portraying, Dr. Bennet Omalu, and not Will Smith. It’s even more difficult in general for a performer to play someone from a different country with a different accent. Not only does the performer have to nail the accent, but they also have to capture the mannerisms and the facial expressions of that character and where they are from. Smith does a great job at all of the above and he proved to me that he still has it and should continue to be great dramatically in the future.
Explaining & Simplifying Science– Something I really appreciate about Concussion is that it doesn’t assume that the audience understands all of the scientific terminology involved in explaining the causes and repercussions of CTE. Yes, they do have to use correct medical terminology at first but I thought the movie did a great job of simplifying what was initially explained through simple wording or through visual techniques. There are a few scenes in the movie where visuals show what is physically going on in the brain when it is taking numerous blows to the head. There is one scene in particular when Omalu explains why humans were never meant to continuously take blows to the head compared to animals that have built in protection in their skulls. The film overall made it really easy to understand what is physically and scientifically happening to football players when they are continuously smashing their heads together.
Creating a Sense of Fear– Before watching this movie I could only imagine what physically happens to the human skull when it takes a hard hit, how multiple hits over time can cause long term damage and how that long term damage can mentally and emotionally ruin someone. Well Concussion literally showed me how all of this occurs and it’s honestly terrifying. Even though it may not have been intentional, there are elements of horror in this movie due to the physical damage to the brain and the actions of the ex-players who experienced CTE. It got me thinking about all of the times I might have hit my head a little too hard and if that caused any damage to my brain. I think this is the reaction the movie was going for and it did a great job of making me feel scared and worried for previous, current and future football players.
Dr. Bennet Omalu’s Personal Goal– Something I pay close attention to in movies is the subtle side stories that are going on aside the large scale events that overshadow them. Yes, this movie is about what Dr. Omalu discovered and his struggles with the NFL and how it effects the future of football but underlying all of that is Omalu’s want and essentially need to be excepted as an American. He establishes in the film that he always dreamed of coming to America and how much it meant to him to be part of a place where one can see their dreams come true if they work hard enough. I’m trying my best not to spoil anything specific but let me just say that there is something that happens later on in the movie that pays off regarding this personal goal of Omalu’s. I truly appreciated this because a lot of times movies introduce small story lines like this and never have a pay off for it later on.
There are several other things about Concussion that I really enjoyed such as some subtle humor moments and the performances of Alec Baldwin and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who played Omalu’s wife in the movie, but the ones I mention above are my main highlights. I was specifically pleased with Mbatha-Raw’s performance because she has actually been cast in a role in Star Wars: Episode VIII and I’m a huge Star Wars geek so it was encouraging to see her do a good job.
Portrayal of the NFL– There are two sides to this negative for me which might seem to contradict one another. On one side I thought the movie tried too hard to make the NFL look like villains in the wrong way. Concussion portrayed the NFL as an organization that would kill to protect themselves, implying several times that Omalu would literally be murdered if he didn’t stop the publication of his scientific research. They were almost made out to be a secret government organization like Hydra from the Marvel movies or Spectre from James Bond. While I do think the NFL, like any organization, would go to great lengths to protect themselves, I don’t think they would go as far as the movie is implying they would. The other side of this negative is that I don’t think the movie did a great job of realistically going after the NFL. It felt like the movie was scared to put it all out there and symbolically give the NFL a big “F you!” The movie did portray the NFL as a negative entity but in the wrong way, like a Bond villain rather than a greed driven organization.
Too Much Focus on Omalu’s Personal Life– While I enjoyed learning about certain aspects of Omalu’s personal life, I thought the movie devoted too much time to focus on him meeting his wife and starting his family. I was really into the scientific and dramatic elements revolving the ex NFL players and when the movie took time to go away from that, it took me out of the movie and stopped the momentum of that part of the story. This made part of the film feel like a biopic, which I thought was unnecessary as it should’ve focused more on the NFL, it’s ex players and Omalu’s discovery.
Others– Some of my other negatives are not huge but are all worth mentioning. There is a character that works with Omalu that is just annoying and didn’t seem realistic. The whole time this character is antagonizing Omalu and this guy that is portrayed as the “all-American, die-hard Steelers, football fan” just seemed way too cliché for me. Maybe Omalu really did work with somebody like this but regardless it was way too overdone. Another negative I had was the way the ex NFL players were portrayed as being psychotic and insane. I don’t know how badly these real life people were affected by CTE but the way the movie portrayed it was like they were possessed by demons or something. Whenever a scene came on that was meant to show these ex-players acting out due to CTE the whole tone of the movie changed and it felt so out of place. I honestly don’t know if these were the literal actions of these ex-players so I don’t intend to offend anyone or underplay how serious this is. I just thought the movie could’ve handled these scenes a bit better.
Overall I think Concussion is good movie but just barely. I think I few minor changes could’ve been made to take the movie from just being okay, to really good.
I give Concussion a 7 out of 10.
What about you, movie lovers? Have you seen Concussion? If so, what did you think? Did you like Will Smith’s performance? Let me know in the comment section!