Movie Review: Concussion
By Matthew Huntley
December 30, 2015
Concussion could either be viewed as a character study or a dramatic thriller about a timely subject. Either way, it fails on both counts and it’s difficult to say whether that’s because it doesn’t know what it wants to be or if it’s simply not good at being either. As a character piece, the film starts out well enough and has a strong, central figure who’s interesting, likable and easy to get behind, but the movie eventually cuts corners on this front once it introduces its greater topic, after which it takes on more than it can handle, or at least handle well.
This is yet another biographical sports film that’s “Based on a true story,” although I have a feeling the GQ article that inspired it, “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, reads better than the movie plays, not to mention offers more insight. Will Smith stars as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian physician who, in the opening scene, lists out his long list of exceptional credentials to a jury in a murder trial. Omalu is a witness for the defense and he testifies that the accused is innocent due to his unique strain of hemophilia. Omalu’s explanation may sound long-winded and laborious, but his knowledge and enthusiasm make us believe he’s correct.
Indeed, Omalu is a very proud and accomplished man. His number one dream is to become an American and in 2002 he’s working as a forensic pathologist under the leadership of Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Omalu takes his work very seriously and is extremely methodical in the way he tries to determine why people died, not just how. He only uses clean tools; he listens to relaxing music while cutting people open; and he always tells to his deceased “patients” beforehand that he needs their help.
Wecht recognizes the young doctor’s commitment but isn’t afraid to let Omalu know that what he possesses in intelligence and work ethic he lacks in social skills and companionship. Omalu lives alone and his apartment essentially serves as his second office. It’s not until the priest at his church asks him to host Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a nurse from Kenya, that Omalu starts to come out of his shell and loosen up. Before we know it, after just one date at a dance club, he and Prema are in love and engaged to be married.
All this happens amidst a tragic event when Mike Webster (David Morse), the former center for the Pittsburg Steelers, dies suddenly at the age of 50, apparently from suicide. Webster’s death shakes the city, not only because he played a central role in the team earning four Super Bowl championships beginning in the late 1970s, but also because so many viewed him as a local hero who helped raise the town’s spirits and confidence. Omalu is asked to perform Webster’s autopsy, and despite his colleagues asking him not to “cut Webster up” out of respect, Omalu proceeds as normal, although the reason for Webster’s death isn’t immediately apparent. Omalu can’t figure out why a seemingly healthy, middle-aged man would suddenly go insane and kill himself.