The new film Concussion is not only a timely drama about the discovery and effect of brain trauma that has led to the death of numerous football players, but it’s also a touching and important movie that puts a human face on immigration — in this case one very special man named Dr. Bennet Omalu. He is the Nigerian who as a top forensics pathologist discovered and revealed what is now known as CTE (Chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which can only be diagnosed after death. This is almost ripped from the headlines, as just last week it was revealed the late Frank Gifford suffered from CTE, a carryover from decades earlier as a football great.
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), writer-director Peter Landesman, an investigative journalist-turned-filmmaker (Parkland), has turned what could have been a dry medical procedural into a riveting and crackling thriller chronicling Omalu’s efforts to make his findings public despite huge interference from the NFL and their defenders who were silent on the subject until forced to act. This is a real David vs. Goliath story that slowly — and accurately — follows Omalu’s professional and personal life as it becomes clear he is on to something significant, and potentially life-saving.
Will Smith, with a flawless Nigerian accent, plays Omalu with great dignity and subtlety. We root for this good man to succeed, and Smith gets every nuance just right in a pitch-perfect performance that is the best of his career. Considering Smith has been nominated twice for Oscars for playing other real-life roles — Muhammad Ali in Ali and Chris Gardner in The Pursuit Of Happyness — it is saying something that he exceeds his fine work in those films. But I would be very surprised if he isn’t once again among the five Best Actor nominees this year.
Even though the subject matter focuses on CTE and its effect on the game (and the fact that, privately, the NFL will not be too happy about this movie), Concussion also manages to make a strong statement about the value of immigration without really making one at all. Thanks to Smith’s heartfelt work, you really feel what the promise of America means to someone like Omalu, and in turn how his entry into the country benefits us all. With all the heated, hateful rhetoric on this topic during this political season, it is powerful and poignant the way this film (as well as another fall movie, Brooklyn) makes us see the hot-button issue in purely human terms.
One scene in particular, where Omalu describes his dream to come to this country to his girlfriend, is quietly beautiful and terrifically acted by Smith and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She shines in a fine supporting cast that also includes exceptional work from Albert Brooks as Omalu’s boss, Alec Baldwin as a former team doctor who helps the cause, David Morse as football star and CTE victim Mike Webster, and even a brief appearance by Luke Wilson as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. There has been no attempt on Landesman’s part to hide any names and protect any institution here, and that’s admirable. This is the rare film that can be enormously entertaining but also make a real difference.
Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, Elizabeth Cantillon, Larry Shuman, and David Wolthoff are credited as producers. Sony Pictures is the distributor.
Do you plan to see Concussion? Let us know what you think.