Based on: an exposé, ‘Game Brain’ published in GQ, 2009, by Jeanne Marie Laskas.
Starring: Will Smith, Alac Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, David Morse, Paul Reiser, Albert Brooks.
Based on an exposé, ‘Game Brain’, Concussion is based on the true story of a Nigerian Doctor, Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) and his discovery of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE): a brain disorder he discovered while conducting a post mortem on the famous football player, Mike Webster (David Morse).
In answer to the question: why are all these professional football players going mad and killing themselves? Dr Omalu, thinking he’s doing the right thing by sharing his scientific knowledge, and publishing his discovery in the scientific journal, Neurosurgery, inadvertently takes on the multi-billion dollar industry that is the NFL.
Headed by a Rheumatologist (a doctor who specialises in arthritis, disorders of the muscles and joints not brain), the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury committee demands a retraction of the journal article, stating the information is false. Standing by the science of CTE, Dr Omalu must face the pressure from the NFL against his own credentials and the pressure against his colleagues and his wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).
I was more interested in the science of the story, which was shown to the audience without getting too technical. A notable scene with the good Dr Omalu jerking a walnut from side-to-side in a water-filled glass jar to demonstrate how multiple hits to the head effect the brain. Or how the woodpecker uses its tongue to wrap its brain in a protective ‘seat belt’ in order to save its brain from the G-force of its pecking against a hard surface. The human brain has no such anatomical protection: ‘God did not make humans to play football’, states Dr Omalu.
But there was also politics and drama here with a ‘David and Goliath’ theme, with the ‘wickedness’ that is corporate America against the rational of proven scientific evidence. For a person to suffer the symptoms of very early dementia and depression to such an extent as to commit suicide, and for the diagnosis of such symptoms to be ignored is a tragedy against humanity.
Being compared to the legal case made against the tobacco companies regarding the ill effects of cigarettes, Concussion could easily have turned very one-sided. I was glad the beauty and grace of the sport was noted – but the obvious effects of multiple head injuries was a sad and hard fact to ignore. Also making me wonder, even though a very different sport, about the injuries being made to the brains of our Aussie Rule footballers.
Although Will Smith was well-cast, I found the science to be the most absorbing and interesting aspect of the film. Perhaps the film would have been more successful as a documentary, to highlight the scientific and political aspects rather than the drama.
But certainly, overall, a well-handled emotive and very interesting and absorbing movie.