Release: 6th June 2016
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
A dramatic thriller based on the incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of a football-related brain trauma, CTE, in a pro player and fought for the truth to be known. Omalu’s emotional quest puts him at dangerous odds with one of the most powerful – and beloved – institutions in the world.
According to Concussion, Will Smith’s latest bit of Oscar bait, it was only recently that America discovered that bashing your head enough times will cause brain damage. Well, duh! What Concussion also teaches us though, is that nobody in this world still makes a sporting drama quite as good as Uncle Sam.
Those who remember Michael Mann’s lesser appreciated, and completely non-sport related, The Insider may see airs of it in Concussion. This is a story about a man who takes on an absolute titan of commerce with nothing but his sense of moral justice and the support of a new friend. Both films push the paranoia which said battles bring to the little man, and they both have an overly exuberant sense of righteousness. But where Russell Crowe’s Jeffrey Wigand was a sullen…well, insider, Will Smith’s Bennet Omalu is the busybody outsider who finds himself fighting a war from the fringes. Another difference is that The Insider was a deep and morally complex picture of truth and the free press, Concussion is a shallower affair that focuses more on the journey than the motivation. We are given some cursory insights into Omalu’s super polite world littered with incompetent colleagues, but never offered a reason as to why he does what he does or even why he cares so much. There is a fleeting and wonderful performance by David Morse to set the plot up, and then we are away.
Omalu’s journey seems less difficult than you might have imagined. There may be an uphill struggle to get the truth heard, but his frustrations to curb the fact that no one seems to believe what all four-year olds already know – hitting your head is bad – and director Peter Landesman’s lack of willingness to engage his lead as anything more than a noble prince, makes the journey seem like a boring one. Some moments of emotional truth do get the arm hairs up, but the more overt chest beating monologues feel tired. In short, the film is at its best when it’s at its most organic.
Will Smith does a good job with Omalu, but still feels a tad too self impressed for the character to build complexity. Alec Baldwin is afforded some of the film’s morally grey area as Julian Bailes, and Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje squeezes all he can out of limited screen time.
There is a definite sense that Concussion wants to point fingers at the NFL without overtly ostracising sports fans, and this ultimately dulls any pointed edges that the project may have once had. One could walk away from this and still value American Football as a truly awe-inspiring game, whilst also appreciating the tragedy behind some of its biggest victims. Which leaves you wondering why anyone in their right mind would have ignored Omalu’s findings in the first place? It is this ludicrous fear of reason that helps us see why the likes of Donald Trump might well become president one day. Never mind a blow to the head, America needs a kick in the chads.
Film Grade: C+
A collection of Deleted Scenes serve the film well, and had they been in the final cut would have actually given more depth.
Two featurettes, give us a look at The Truth behind the film. This is a short talking heads from a lot of the key players in the actual events which inspired the film. While the other is a more traditional Making Of. Both are two a good standard, and worth the time; especially when you hear Will Smith impersonating Omalu’s real voice.
The Director’s Commentary is the quarter back of the bunch, if you will. It proves to be the overarching glue that binds both the film and the supplements together, and speaks to Peter Landsman’s deeper connection and understanding of the material.
Special Features Grade: C+
The NFL would have little reason to fear Concussion. It may expose them as money grabbing douchebags, but hey it’s capitalism – nothing new there. However, what it also does it prove that American Football is an absolute hive of drama. It truly is the greatest sport on Earth; if not the most devastating.