By Liz Lopez
At a time when many people are in a celebratory mood during the holidays, a film arrives in theaters that may leave some people in a somber mood, but it certainly should have everyone thinking about football and the physical and emotional consequences to the players after extensive trauma. There have already been articles written about this and one, the GQ article Game Brain by Jeanne Marie Laskas that was later expanded to a book, has been adapted by Peter Landesman (Parkland) for the feature film Concussion that he also directs. This film is an excellent medium to bring more awareness about the true story of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian immigrant with multiple degrees, who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in former NFL players while he worked at the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh for forensic consultant Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks).
Omalu publishes his findings in a medical journal and not everyone is happy to learn about this. Despite the film not actually reaching a “thriller” level, a term I have seen attached to this film, this drama relates some of the push back and threats Omalu and his wife, Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) endure, (although not completely detailed). His boss finds himself investigated by the FBI. This may not be the film selected for viewing on opening day while busy with families, but most definitely in time before the football watching frenzy begins.
Smith portrays the Nigerian born doctor and his accent is admirable, as well as his performance, as he portrays this very intelligent and kind conductor of autopsies who speaks to the bodies before dissecting them. His belief is that if he knows more about them, he will discover the reason for their demise. He knows little to nothing about American football, thus when Mike Webster (David Morse), the retired 50-year-old Super Bowl-winning center for the Steelers, is the next body that turns up in the morgue for him to work on, he proceeds as usual. Omalu’s co-worker, who is already not enamored of anything does, gives him grief for not treating the local hero in a different manner. It is during this autopsy that he learns of Webster’s psychological breakdown and homelessness, with symptoms of memory loss, depression and severe mood swings. The additional tests he runs on the brain lead to a discovery. Subsequently, it is not only Webster, but also players Justin Strzelczyk (Matthew Willig) and Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who suffered the same.
Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) is a former Steelers team doctor who eventually joins forces with Omalu to advocate for the players, after pondering how many of them he returned to the playing field time after time during his consultations. His performance is good as always, but he is not a Golden Globe nominee like Will Smith for his performance.
The actor with the briefest scenes is Luke Wilson cast as league commissioner Roger Goodell. I really expected more, but he read the lines given to him in the script.
The people who appear to be indestructible come game time are the ones who lose so much in the long run, including their families. Just think about this next time you gather around to watch this sport.
The 123 minute film is rated PG-13 and opens on Friday, December 25th
Source: Columbia Pictures