Concussion: A Filtered Quest for the NFL’s Truth

L-R: Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Will Smith in Concussion. Courtesy of Sony.

Concussion focuses on Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first discovered CTE in retired NFL players, and his quest to tell the truth.

I happened to notice that the film was airing on TV over Super Bowl weekend. Dysphoria was so bad in late 2015 that it was one of many films that I saw but didn’t review. As such, there’s no better time to watch it than the hours leading up to tonight’s kickoff. CTE is a contributing factor in one of the reasons why I no longer watch the NFL as much as I used to. Between this film and Requiem for a Running Back, I just don’t have the interest in watching anymore. The commercials are the only reason why I’m watching the game tonight. Otherwise, I just spend my Sundays getting a head start with upcoming movies. But anyway, brain trauma is one of those things that needs to be taken seriously. It’s only a shame that the NFL hid the truth for so long.

Writer/director Peter Landesman tells the story of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith). When one looks at the power of the NFL, this is a real David vs. Goliath story. It is very telling when a powerful institution does their best to silent the truth. We have the right to know just how dangerous football is as a sport. Hell, Sony doesn’t even air the NFL on a network and there’s no denying that there’s a level of appeasement to make them happy. It’s a difference between narrative and documentary features. A documentary filmmaker isn’t afraid of using their films to tell the truth–even if the NFL doesn’t want you to hear it.

What kicks everything off is the death of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (David Morse). Before Webster died, Justin Strzelczyk had informed him that he was starting to have memory issues. Webster, however, shrugged him off. Enter Dr. Omalu to perform the autopsy. This want to figure out why Webster died of a heart attack at age 50 leads the pathologist to discover something else: chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Before long, other retired NFL players end up killing themselves. If not for Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), neurologist Dr. Steven DeKosky (Eddie Marsan), and county coroner Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), who knows if the NFL would have even bothered to listen to them. After Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson) takes over as commissioner, they do hold a committee meeting but shrugs Omalu off.

The film takes place over the course of a few years–not the best idea for a biopic but necessary in telling this particular story. It isn’t until NFLPA executive Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) kills himself that Dr. Omalu is finally vindicated. It’s sad that it took his death to get people to finally listen. Dr. Omalu speaks before the NFLPA conference on concussions and CTE. One thing leads to another and the NFL players end up suing the league for hiding the truth about CTE. Concussion’s closing montage includes reports of the 2011 lawsuit and Junior Seau’s 2012 suicide.

It’s been over six years since the release of Concussion. Dave Duerson’s family was not happy with how he had been portrayed in the film. Dr. Steven DeKosky even notes how the film takes liberties. Filmmakers are always doing what they can to take dramatic liberties. Sometimes, it veers a bit too much away from real life. However, what is strongly disappointing is how much Sony altered the film to keep the NFL happy. Unacceptable. Even though this is a narrative feature, it’s still a biopic. Obviously, some liberties are going to be taken. This just happens to be the way that Hollywood works. But to cave in THIS MUCH to the league is just unacceptable. You can find more on the backstory here.

Will Smith delivers an Oscar-worthy performance and while Concussion isn’t a bad film, the filmmakers should have trusted their gut instincts.

CAST: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mike O’Malley, with David Morse and Albert Brooks

Sony released Concussion on December 25, 2015.

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.