Concussion | Third Space


Compelling drama that turns into a long public service announcement


Fri 20 Jan 2017
Compelling drama that turns into a long public service announcement

3 out of 5 stars

Football is manifested in many different ways across cultures; sometimes it's even played with the foot. There is no grander stage for the American manifestation of football than on the playing field of the National Football League. The players that manage to play for extended years become legends in their community, across the country and some even go onto world-wide recognition. The question that is considered by Concussion is would grid iron football be as popular if it came with a warning label that stated "playing this sport could lead to psychosis and premature death," would people still sign their sons up to play?

Without realising it, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is the man that discovered the disease shook one of the biggest names in sport. He does have a unique bedside manner. Dr. Omalu talks to his patients, which would not be odd, except that he is a forensic neuropathologist who works in the Pittsburgh morgue. His patients come to him after life and he has to investigate what has brought them before him on the steel table. He is the bane of the existence of the morgue supervisor because of his methodical ways, but Bennet is loved by the wider forensic community. He is known for his brilliance and strong resolve to make things right for his 'patients.' Then he is presented with a challenging case. On the examination table is one of the Pittsburgh Steelers favoured sons, Mike Webster (David Morse). A football legend who died a tragic and lonely death after a stellar career. Based on the true story of Dr. Omalu's investigation into the mysterious illness of professional football players and the eventual discovery of CTE, a brain condition that comes from continual blows to the head during the careers of these men. His quest to expose the epidemic affecting these elite athletes and to assist in the alleviation of future problems is met with extreme opposition by the NFL and the local community. This modern day medical drama proves to have far-reaching implications that impact the Nigerian immigrant's personal, professional and spiritual life.

Dr. Bennet Omalu's true to life story of discovering and labelling of this disease and the surprising response from the wider community shows the passion that people have for this sport. Director Peter Landesman (Kill the Messenger) and Will Smith attempt to make a compelling drama of this medical journey. The drama would be fascinating to anyone with a scientific compulsion and Will SmIth's interpretation of the passionate doctor is deserving of recognition. With this performance and the writing, Concussion does present a good case for the football culture in America to be a worry for all mothers of football players. The difficulty is getting people to believe that football is a safe sport in the first place. It is not safe and most people realise that playing this sport may lead to permanent injury. This realisation inevitably takes away some of the mystery behind this biographical sketch. The science and unveiling of the mystery behind Mike Webster and other NFL players death is riveting, but does fail to maintain the tension needed for the majority of the film.

Even though this story is about saving human lives, most of the story does not rise above a lesson in why not to let your boys play football. One element that attempts to add some feeling into this tale of titans is the inclusion of the Omalus' love story. It does provide some needed human aspects and a brief feminine touch to this testosterone laden battleground of football and medicine. Smith does an admirable job of showing the passion of Dr. Omalu and Albert Brooks (Finding Nemo) provides the comedic delivery to balance the serious nature of the central character, but not enough to lift this narrative above a long public service announcement. The writers must have had quite a challenge to make this engaging enough to get it into development. In the end, the record of Dr. Omalu's dedication and sacrifice are admirable, but the heart of the story proves to be lifeless.

REEL DIALOGUE: Dr Omalu’s faith

One unfortunate aspect of Concussion's cinematic experience is the minimising of the faith of the Omalu family. The personal desire to save the lives of these football players and others from this life-threatening condition is even more understandable when Dr. Omalu's faith is allowed to shine. Without direct references, he does follow the example of Jesus and is passionate to see people's lives saved despite the opposition from the sporting community. Jesus gave his life to save others and to a lesser degree so did Dr. Omalu.

1. What does the Bible say about business practices? (Leviticus 25:14, 1 Timothy 6:10)

2. What is our responsibility to our local community? (Colossians 3:24, 1 Corinthians 15:58)

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