It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
“I am the wrong person to have discovered this,” Dr. Bennet Omalu, played in this movie by Will Smith, laments to his wife Prema, near the final quarter of "Concussion." Omalu, a practitioner who has such pride in his profession that he corrects people who refer to him as “Mister” with “Doctor,” but who is so kind-hearted, brilliant, enthusiastic and likable that the tic doesn’t play here as irritating, is in an unusually American fix in this fact-based drama.
Omalu is the real-life doctor who, while working as a forensic pathologist in Pittsburgh, discovered a new and terrifying brain disorder that he named Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. He discovered it performing an autopsy on a retired Pittsburgh Steeler named Mike Webster (movingly portrayed here by David Morse). Webster left the game as a hero and began losing his mind well before his death at fifty; scenes shortly before his death show him living in his pickup truck, huffing turpentine. A fellow player, himself to suffer a similar fate in the movie, tries to help him out. Neither man understands what’s happening to them. Omalu figures it out: the persistent head injuries sustained in football play shake up the brain—as the character explains, unlike some other mammals, humans don’t have built-in shock absorbers for their grey matter—and release a protein that builds up and causes hallucinations, memory loss, and much more trauma.
This film, written and directed by Peter Landesman and based in part on a 2009 magazine article, portrays Omalu as a cheerful, quietly religious man who, as a Nigerian-born immigrant, believes strongly in the American Dream, and believes that doing the right thing is part of that whole trip. The response his findings elicit from the NFL quickly prove him mistaken. As Omalu’s boss and mentor, played by Albert Brooks with a nice mix of world-weariness and faith, puts it, Omalu is going up against an organization that “owns a day of the week.” Omalu thinks the NFL will be glad of his findings, and use some American ingenuity to do something about the problem. This is not what occurs.
Will Smith’s performance as Omalu is lovely: small-scaled, precise, imbued with righteousness but not tritely pious. One thing I’ve noticed when Smith essays such a performance in a movie that’s not entirely bad (and this movie is rather good): my fellow critics seem a little surprised. I don’t understand why. Even since before his first “serious” film, an adaptation of the acclaimed stage play “Six Degrees Of Separation,” he was clearly a gifted and versatile performer. Although his career in recent years has admittedly encompassed a lot of work in which he more or less merely has to “be Will Smith,” that hasn’t necessarily led to a diminishment of his chops. He’s also surrounded by expert players, including Alec Baldwin as a one-time team doctor who’s both disturbed and stimulated by Omalu’s findings, and who tries to build a bridge between Omalu and the stonewalling NFL, an effort that ends in teeth-gritting frustration.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
Chaz Ebert highlights films with the potential to get us through the confusing political times of the Trump presidenc...
A review of Netflix's new series, Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which premieres January 13.
One of the most audacious American films from the 1960s is now available via the Criterion Collection.