Will Smith will always be known as an acting juggernaut, more than capable of bringing in a crowd regardless of the film. Some of his ventures have been hit or miss (Winter’s Tale, Jersey Girl, Legend of Bagger Vance) but over all, he’s capable of playing incredibly memorable, and powerful characters, and ‘Concussion’ continues that tradition. Dr. Bennet Omalu discovered a connection between football injuries and brain damage in the early 2000’s, and was met with an incredible amount of resistance by both scientists and the NLF. From the opening scene of the film when Bennet Omalu lists off his academic accolades, the entire movie theater was impressed. And Will Smith does a great job filling the shoes of a brilliant doctor.
The most notable factor about the character of Dr. Omalu is his Nigerian accent. Accents haven’t been Will Smith’s strongest suit (After Earth for example), but even though his accent in ‘Concussion’ does waver in and out, it’s not enough to take you out of the film… (like in After Earth). Oddly enough the accents are one of the only weak points of the film. Alec Baldwin’s Dr. Julian Bailes has an odd wavering southern accent at certain parts of his sentences, and the rest seems like regular Baldwin. This however is NOT to discredit his incredible acting in the film. After 30 Rock, Baldwin can be hard to take seriously because of the show playing his dry, straight faced humor as his strongest card. ‘Mission Impossible: Rouge Nation’ is filled with seriously played lines from Baldwin that the audience took as a joke because it sounded like a 30 Rock line. ‘Concussion’ however jumps this hurdle, and Baldwin’s character Bailes comes across as a deeply conflicted, emotionally dignified character who belongs on screen next to Smith.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw (who was amazing in Under The Lights) plays Prema Mutiso, Omalu’s room mate/love interest. To her credit, she does very well with what she’s given, her acting is superb, and every motivational speech, or heart breaking moment she goes through feels real, and substantial. That being said, Prema is a nurse dating a doctor, and didn’t seem to lend much help to the medical plot points of the film. At certain points in the movie it was almost as if she was there simply to have things explained to her, so that the audience would understand. Case in point: when Will Smith demonstrates a brain in a skull by showing her a peach in a jar half filled with water, and shakes it around. (She’s a nurse, I’m fairly certain she knows how a concussion works.)
As for the film itself, there are a few more humorous moments than one would expect from a film with such serious subject matter. There are many deliberately awkward moments between Omalu and any of the other characters that serve as good humor, and the film balances this well with darker moments that even drew a few gasps from the crowd. ‘Concussion’ has a unique way of making its point using real NLF footage. Even from the opening monologue from “Iron Mike Webster” (played brilliantly by David Morse) the movie intercuts with highlight reels, and gives the film a much more visceral feel. There are even moments of police footage that are used to astonishing effect. Smith’s character even uses dialog to illustrate his point in graphic manor, describing men “being hit in the head with sledge hammers” or “pouring wet concrete down a sink” relative to choking a brain.
The overall writing in the film is also superb, and doesn’t seek to demonize the NLF, but simply demonstrate that certain individuals within its ranks would do whatever it took to keep the league unshakeable. There are lines like “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the WEEK… The same one that the Church used to own.” that demonstrate the gravity of Omalu’s plight. Omalu even has a few very stirring lines of his own, including the now famous trailer scene “When I was a boy, Heaven was here, and America was here [just below]” (which I’ve read was an actual quote from the real Dr. Omalu).
All in all, the film comes from a great true story about helping people, and not being afraid to speak the truth. The conclusion of the film may not be as satisfying as some movie-goers may want, however, it’s the way things work when it comes to real life. ‘Concussion is very well written, and treats its characters like real people. There is no general antagonist just counting money in the NLF offices doing evil things to keep people down, every character seems conflicted in their motivations, and has reason for feelings the way they feel. The doctors, and scientists especially, rely on facts and evidence before making decisions, and sometimes even state that although they may dislike Omalu, and his reasoning, or his motivations, they cannot deny the scientific evidence… which is the way REAL scientists behave.
The emotional moments in the film (especially a break down, beautifully acted by Will Smith) all have weight, and resonate with the audience. Some cast members shine brighter than others however. On the high scale, David Morse as Mike Webster was shockingly strong, and on the other hand Luke Wilson as the NLF commissioner was barely even in the film. ANY person with hair could have played that role. There are one or two scenes that may not fit into the film, like an awkward club scene that was just there to give Nina Sky some more royalties, but as a whole, ‘Concussion’ delivers as a heartwarming story of a person who will not stand for letting the truth be unheard. I definitely recommend it this christmas.