Burden of Proof

Concussion

concussion

Director: Peter Landesman

Cast: Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Hill Harper, Eddie Marsan, Luke Wilson, Arliss Howard, Stephen Moyer, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Paul Reiser

Oscar Nominee Will Smith (Ali, The Pursuit of Happyness) revives his career with a superb performance as the diligent Nigerian doctor Dr Bennett Omalu in the medical thriller Concussion directed by Kill the Messenger screenwriter Peter Landesman and based upon a GQ article called The Game Brain written by Jeanne Marie Laskas.

Concussion takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2002 where Dr Bennett works as a County forensic pathologist under the guidance of his mentor and sponsor Dr Cyril Wecht played by Albert Brooks (Broadcast News, Drive). After a legendary footballer Mike Webster dies suddenly at the age of 50, Dr Bennet discovers a condition known as repetitive head trauma which effects the brain over a long period of repeated trauma, especially common in those playing major league American Football. Webster, briefly played by David Morse first consults the team’s doctor Julian Bales played by Alec Baldwin before committing suicide.

Concussion as a medical thriller really takes off when two other players suddenly die under suspicious circumstances which leads to more questions than reasonable explanations. Soon Dr Bennett and his persistence in establishing the root cause of their deaths, gets the assistance of two other neuro surgeons Dr Steven DeKosky played by Eddie Marsan and Dr Ron Hamilton played by Stephen Moyer to name the symptom as Repetitive Head Trauma. Medically there is a more complicated name.

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Running concurrently to these medical discoveries, is Dr Bennett’s own plans to become a fully-fledged American citizen who dreams of owning his own home with his Kenyan born wife Prema Mutiso played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw last seen in Belle. However, the immigrant couple’s aspirations are cast into jeopardy when Dr Bennett takes on the most powerful and wealthiest sporting body in America: The National Football League who, Dr Wecht dryly refers to, an organization that next to God owns a day of the week.

As a film, Concussion operates on two levels one as a medical thriller taking on an enormously powerful sporting organization (The NFL) and also as a personal drama of two immigrants Dr Bennett and Prema Mutiso whose pursuit of the American dream is thwarted, not only by racial prejudice but also by a medical discovery which could put into question the potential recruitment of young men to play in the NFL and more significantly what the consequences are for retiring Football players whose days of glory are overshadowed by madness and suicidal tendencies when they reach middle age.

Will Smith delivers a superb performance, mastering a Nigerian accent and Albert Brooks, last seen in Drive, is brilliant as his acerbic yet encouraging mentor who urges Bennett to pursue his medical discoveries despite the consequences and the threats from the NFL, especially when the findings are made public, gaining considerable media attention across America.

Former investigative journalist turned director Peter Landesman’s Concussion is an absorbing medical thriller which should gain a wide audience both in the sporting and medical worlds. By no means a masterpiece, Concussion is recommended viewing for those that enjoyed such films as Moneyball, Thank You for Smoking and the excellent film Michael Clayton about exposing corporate greed in America. It’s also reassuring to see Will Smith back on form tackling a more dramatic and nuanced role.

 

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