It’s difficult to talk about Concussion and not mention this year’s Oscars. With the lack of diversity amongst the nominations proving controversial, with black film-makers and performers such as Spike Lee and Jada Pinkett Smith calling for a boycott of the ceremony, this Ridley Scott-produced drama about American football proves their point completely.
Will Smith’s central performance as Dr. Bennet Omalu, a real life pathologist who, in 2002, discovered a long hidden hidden neurological disease called CTE in a number of NFL players, is one that is worthy of award consideration. Once again, Smith proves to be one of the most charismatic actors working in cinema today, whilst playing one of his most interesting characters in quite some time.
The Nigerian born Dr. Omalu makes for a fascinating fish out of water, whose quirky and deeply spiritual personality is considered strange in his new home, the United States. Boasting a fantastic Nigerian accent, Smith’s turn here is light and endearing one moment and intense the next.
Smith’s snub from the academy bares a striking similarity to the way in which his character’s initial findings are ignored outright by the NFL, who would deny all scientific reasoning so that their sport and business remains protected. As much as the science in the film is indisputable, so is Will Smith’s performance which is integral to the film’s success.
Away from the lead actor though, Concussion tells its true story with confidence and clarity, and had me gripped from beginning to end. The lengths that the National Football League go to in hiding the truth surrounding their players’ deaths are shocking and infuriating, but what’s pleasantly surprising are the different elements – personal, economical and political – that contribute to the story.
The most intriguing part of the film is how it explores the relationship between Dr. Omalu and America. He makes it quite clear throughout the film that he loves the country and wants nothing more than to become a permanent citizen, yet, through his discoveries, he has no choice but to go up against one of the nation’s most beloved institutions. Through this plot thread, Concussion, at times, feels like it’s more of a story about an outsider fighting for acceptance in the country he loves than anything else.
The fact that it manages to make things personal increases the investment you might have in the story considerably, and whilst the film-making itself may be decidedly pedestrian, the performances from Smith and his excellent supporting cast, as well as a stirring score from James Newton Howard, mean that Concussion deserves your attention despite being all but ignored during this award season.
Image credit to http://www.imawards.com