Directed By Peter Landesman

Rating: B

This movie seemed very promising. Just like its contemporary Spotlight, it tells an important, recent true story about a powerful organization covering up wrongdoings, following the individuals who attempt to expose the truth. Concussion isn’t a catastrophic failure, but somehow it isn’t as cohesive and engrossing as Spotlight. 

Will Smith plays real-life doctor Bennet Umalu, a Nigerian-born forensic pathologist working in Pittsburgh in 2002. Umalu discovers that many former pro football players seem to be suffering from a previously unknown form of brain damage, likely caused by repeated blows to the head. He suspects many others may have the same affliction. Of course, his attempts to bring this knowledge to light are met with harsh resistance from the NFL, and the football-going public. It isn’t long before Umalu becomes the target of xenophobic mistrust, and starts to receive angry phone calls to his home (leading to one of the film’s most memorable lines: “Why are you trying to vaginize football?”) 

The stakes rise very quickly, as Bennet’s research could potentially shake up a beloved cultural institution. Sweeping aerial shots of Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field stadium (which you might also recognize from The Dark Knight Rises) are a constant reminder of football’s enmeshment into the city, and the nation. 

Where Concussion ultimately falters is in it’s sticking to many of the formulaic plot points required of the genre. We have the obligatory love-interest side plot, and the manditory scene where Umalu is doubts himself and ‘said love interest’ (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) gives him the whole “I believe in you, you just have to follow your heart blah blah” speech. And even though the film provides some commentary on the dangers of nationalism, we also get a gratuitous “America, fuck yeah!” moment towards the end (though that part is perhaps open to interpretation). Additionally, the film doesn’t make full use of its strong supporting cast: Paul Reiser and Luke Wilson each appear for a grand total of about five seconds. 

Despite these shortcomings, Smith himself gives a solid performance as the even-tempered Umalu. Even if I occasionally hoped he’d channel some of his Men In Black/Independence Day persona and lay some sass down on those fools. 

This article first appeared in Issue 2, 2016.
Posted 2:03pm Sunday 6th March 2016 by Alex Campbell-Hunt.