Will Smith can carry a movie as well as anyone in Hollywood, and he’s been doing it for about the last 20 years. In Concussion he plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian pathologist working in Pittsburgh, who notices something he’s never seen before when conducting an autopsy on former NFL player Mike Webster. It turns out that it’s a new brain condition that causes its victim to enter a deep depression. He names it chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Smith does an amazing job as Omalu. He doesn’t use his lilt robotically, but commits to every inflection along the way, providing a very natural delivery that makes us believe he is Nigerian.
The filmmakers may not take a lot of risks with Smith’s character, pinning him as the interminable hero–which he undeniably is. But I think many people would have wanted to visit his weaknesses a little bit more, other than the first 15 minutes when it is merely stated that he has no human relationships. This gets taken care of fairly quickly with the introduction of Prema, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, a Kenyan nurse who needs a place to live and develops a relationship with Omalu.
Even though Smith’s character doesn’t face a whole lot of moral dilemma, he is so earnest that he becomes honorable–a personage to cherish in cinema. Smith brings his own personality to the film, and although he’s fully committed, you are comforted knowing that it’s him donning those grey sideburns.
There are a plethora of self-aware dialogue that may rub people the wrong way, but it’s paced very very well so as to not discount the script. With all the science that the story surrounds, it never makes itself confusing or convoluted by over-explaining the details.
Not that I was already fond of the NFL organization, but watching this movie makes me dislike them even more. I know the film tries to be unbiased at times, but the facts are all there pointing the other way.
But Concussion is about more than just football. It’s about the misconception of the American dream. The realization that that dream is rooted in monetary gain by any means necessary. And as Omalu discovers it, we do too. An organization that our society is loyally infatuated with isn’t all that we romanticize it to be.
Driven by Peter Landesman’s honest direction and a score composed by James Newton Howard, which helps drive the intensity of the film, Concussion is one of my favorite films of the year. It isn’t perfect, but it’s very good. And more than anything, it’s powerful–which, in this case, may be the most important factor of all.