Hot Take: Concussion lands a heavy blow against the NFL then jabs it’s way to the conclusion. Will Smith’s performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu is one of the best of his career.
As a society, our entertainment has been at it’s most enjoyable when it is at it’s most violent. This isn’t a new phenomenon. As far back as the Roman Empire, the #1 form of entertainment was watching men die in the gladiatorial arenas. There are countless examples of the masses flocking to witness violence and gore. From public executions to crucifixions to bullfighting, it would seem violence and entertainment go hand in hand.
The most watched spectacle of the 21st century has to be the NFL. Of all of the spectator sports, it is the most popular… and one of the most violent. It is likely third only behind boxing and MMA. Unlike boxing and MMA, the NFL has done everything to avoid discussing the damage done to the athletes due to the sport’s violent nature. Concussion explores the avoidance to the level of cover up and deceit from the highest levels of the NFL’s leadership. With the recent rash of allegations against the league that owns a day of the week (and rents a few others), it’s almost a piling on. However, the film stays fixated on the way the NFL has handled, largely ignored and even tried to cover up the damage done by head injuries to it’s players.
The film explores the death of Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL Hall of Famer Mike Webster whose troubles after football were ignored by the league as Webster’s health deteriorated following his retirement. He suffered from headaches, loss of memory and became homeless and suicidal before dying of a heart attack. The film becomes more of a crime thriller than a docudrama as Will Smith’s Omalu performs an autopsy on Webster to discover why he died. Omalu discovers it is the head injuries from Webster’s playing days that are the cause of his failing health and through these findings discovers CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) as the cause of his and many other NFL player’s problems.
Throughout the film, Dr. Omalu is portrayed as a near perfect man while the NFL is portrayed as any film would portray a villain. As he uncovers more and more cases, the NFL attacks the people around Omalu and attempts to discredit his work to the point where he must leave Pittsburgh (because yinz know how much they rilly love the Stillers there) to continue his life.
There is a point where the movie takes it’s foot of the neck of the NFL and takes the more religious approach to the organization asking for forgiveness to the league which since the attempted cover up of the serious damage done by head trauma has also done it’s best to sweep the criminal behavior of it’s athletes under the rug and done it’s best to give as little attention as possible to the domestic abuse issues present in the sport. It’s reasoning? The NFL is entertaining and Dr. Omalu’s wife thinks it is a beautiful thing to watch? That’s it? Hard to swallow after the two hour pile on.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Expect Nominations for Smith
As Dr. Omalu, Smith delivers a great, heartfelt performance. Because of his strong performance, it’s hard to see the storytelling flaws of the film at first glance. His spirit and trustworthiness sell the film’s narrative.
- Emotionally Stirring
While they are sparse, the depictions of the suffering some of the athletes — most notably Mike Webster (played by David Morse), Justin Strezelczyk (Matthew Willig) and Andre Waters (Richard T. Jones) — were going through due to CTE, are heart wrenching. It’s hard to not be angry about the way the NFL ignored their problems after they gave so much of themselves to the sport.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Tell the Truth Is More Important Than Do Something About It?
The focus of Concussion isn’t why is the NFL not doing anything about this problem but why aren’t they admitting it’s a problem. Understandably this is the first step but it seems to think the NFL would be OK if they just admitted CTE was a real danger players should be aware of. There’s very little call for the sport to be any less violent though.
- Sympathy For the Devil
There’s an underlying secondary narrative that we should somehow seek forgiveness for the NFL if it would admit it has a head injury problem much like you’d find a way to forgive an alcoholic who admits they have a drinking problem.