Intent of shining light on the NFL scandal around covering up concussive athletes and the damaging long term effects of playing American football, Concussion never quite dives into the heart of the problem. There’s some good drama used and the characters are all relatively straightforward stereotypes with a good conflict between the football board and the struggle to uncover the truth but Concussion’s inability to focus on the bigger picture hurts its overall impact. Concussion is a film that should feel like a giddy, sledgehammer blow to the head but instead it feels more like a light knock to the temple as we follow the characters on a predictable path to uncover the truth.
American Immigrant Dr Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is the character we focus on here, a forensic neuropathologist who discovers a condition called CTE. Complete with an African accent and stern look, Dr. Omalu sets out to try and get the football board to tell the truth as he uncovers a massive cover-up in the world of American Football to prevent anyone knowing the devastating impact the sport has had on its players and its vast history of concussions. These sort of true-story dramatisation stories work well with a quick pace and hard hitting drama, focusing on the shock and anger built up toward authorities but here it never quite feels like it hits the mark and as it focuses more on Dr. Omalu’s life away from the football scene. The initial shock in discovering the brain injuries the sport has caused its former athletes feels like it evaporates the longer we spend with his tranquil life and inner conflict rather than the overlying issue itself.
There are pockets of drama throughout the quick paced film and as Omalu comes face to face with the men responsible for the cover up there are some particularly good dramatic scenes that work well to raise the tension. Aside from Smith’s accent, which admittedly does feel distracting at times, the only other moment of dramatic tension comes from a car chase which eventually ends up coming to nothing as the film draws closer to its climax.
Concussion ends up as a conflicted film that constantly butts heads with itself. On the one hand its subject matter is important and shining a light on the cover up is a good foundation for a solid, dramatic movie but on the other hand, there’s no denying that Smith’s character just isn’t that endearing which makes it hard to connect with him and the film.
What we end up with here is a film that wants so hard to be a dramatically moving, hard hitting story about the NFL scandal but ends up being a melancholy stroll through the uncovering of CTE and more of a focused look at Dr. Omalu’s internal struggle. Usually this would work well but with such important subject matter, it constantly feels like a missed opportunity as it focuses more on Smith’s character and not on the scandal itself. Consequently, this makes Concussion a bit of a frustrating headache as the potential is here for a very good drama indeed and there’s a few good scenes but it never feels as memorable as it should be.