Concussion – Film Review

The 'Oscar-bait' drama fails to fully translate the emotional weight from page to screen

When people describe films as “Oscar bait” this is the sort of movie they mean. A solid, but dry, drama, there something strained about Concussion, as if it wants to be considered important, revered rather than enjoyed. It wasn’t nominated for any Oscars.

Peter Landesman’s film tells the true story of a Nigerian forensic pathologist, Bennet Omalu (Smith), who went into battle against the National Football League to prove that repeated knocks to the head were causing severe brain trauma in players, leading to major emotional problems in later life. Repeatedly the bodies of ex-players would show up on his slab, usually having taken their own life, but the NFL would not admit this had any connection to the game.

Based on a 2009 GQ article, it’s a fascinating story but one that seems better suited to being read than watched. Landesman tries to up the drama by giving even moderately dramatic moments lots of urgent orchestral accompaniment, or overegging Omalu’s every confrontation, but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a drama largely played out on the pages of medical journals or under microscopes, which isn’t especially cinematic.

Smith gives a quieter than usual performance in the lead role but he’s miscast. He is just too film-starry to be the unassuming little guy. He better suits being the guy who rips into a room and puts everyone else in their place. When he’s facing off across a table with the baddies of the NFL, imploring them repeatedly to “Tell the truth!”, you just don’t feel Smith is the underdog here. Someone like Chiwetel Ejiofor would have been a much better fit. Mbatha Raw brings shades to a standard wife role, while Alec Baldwin, as a former NFL man who joins Omalu’s team, doesn’t get a lot to do but stands around with enormous gravitas.

Concussion is an interesting story that’s diminished by it’s own apparent desire to be seen as significantly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s the sort of thing you might watch on a Sunday afternoon one day when there’s nothing else on and be reasonably glad you did.