Movie review: CONCUSSION

As grandmother to three rambunctious, sports-loving grandsons who regularly bonk, bruise and bump-up their heads and who will likely continue playing sports through to their adult years, concussions have long concerned me. After seeing CONCUSSION, my concerns about repetitive blows and bonks to my beloved boys' brains in the long-term have grown even deeper. (And are now, in a way, confirmed and justified.)

CONCUSSION movie poster

CONCUSSION tells the disturbing story of Dr. Bennet Omalu's mission to wake up the NFL to the brain trauma suffered by its football players in hopes the NFL will admit the dangers and take the strongest preventive measures possible. Omalu, the real-life David brilliantly played by Will Smith, refuses to back down despite unprecedented pushback (and denial) from the powerful Goliath known as the NFL as well as the fierce fans of football.

How one may have missed the trailers for this powerful and important drama, I don't know, but just in case, here's a peek:

Smith did an Oscar-worthy job of portraying the educated and determined Dr. Omalu. I'm unsure of how precise he was in imitating the real doctor, but Smith's accent and body language made him seem far removed from any Will Smith character I've seen before.

David Morse blew me away as "Iron Mike" Webster, the beloved Pittsburgh Steeler whose death prompted Omalu's probe into the damage caused by repetitive concussions suffered by football players and the designation of CTE — Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. I physically hurt watching Morse's pain, suffering, and frustration. It was a brief role but important, moving, and one I won't forget.

Other stars shined, as well. Albert Brooks as Dr. Cyril Wecht, Omalu's (essentially) boss who supported him regardless of the cost, personal and professional. Alec Baldwin as Dr. Julian Bailes, the former Steelers team physician who joined Omalu in his fight. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw — whom I kept trying to figure out if she was Kerry Washington — played Omalu's (eventual) wife with a perfect blend of sweet, strong, and supportive.

Splendid acting from all of the above and every other actor in the film.

A few things I sincerely appreciated in CONCUSSION, in addition to the fine acting and the inspirational story:

  • The film opens with Omalu (Smith) performing an autopsy. I anxiously anticipated blood and gore and scenes of scalpels slicing skin. I abhor those kinds of scenes and was quite grateful they didn't play out that way. Ever. Throughout the entire film. (The head butts and bashes — which I equally abhor — were shown... in painfully real footage.)
  • The technical details and descriptions regarding concussions and CTE and the horrific symptoms of too many sledgehammer-like blows to one's head.
  • CONCUSSION is not against football, not for ending the game. The story is just a wake-up call and warning for those who play the game and the fans who love watching it.
  • This quote regarding football, from Alec Baldwin's character (whether Bailes said it in real life or not, I don't know): "It is a mindless, violent game. And then it's Shakespeare." As someone who only recently started appreciating and enjoying watching football — go Broncos! — yet still appalled at the violence and injuries, these words were perfect.

CONCUSSION was perfect overall, I thought. Here Will Smith discusses the film, Dr. Omalu, and his Golden Globe-nominated part played to perfection:

CONCUSSION (rated PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language) opened Christmas Day and is still in theaters. Find out more on the film's official website.