Movie Review: Concussion

American football has been a big part of my life since I was a kid. It was the only common ground I could find with my stepfather for a long while (well, that and golf) and even with my dad. When I lived 3,000 miles from my dad, I’d call him up on a Sunday during a Detroit Lions game (so sad me that I’m a fan of theirs) and we’d sit quietly while the plays were in motion and chat during the commercials and between plays about the game. Maybe not the most earth-shattering conversation, but it worked for us.

I did wonder about the players’ health when I watched the weekly recaps of the worst hits in the league. They have always made me cringe. I get that they’re padded up, but there are limits on what pads can do.

“Concussion” is all about what happens to players due to repeated hits to the head. The movie is inspired by the true story of the Nigerian American physician (who Will Smith does not resemble at all) responsible for the autopsy of former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster in 2002. His obsession with why Webster died (not just how) led to the investigation of several other former football player deaths. He concluded that the deaths came about as a result of chronic traumatic encephalopathy – repeated blows to the head suffered during the game.

What struck me was the ridiculousness that it took a non-American who wasn’t even interested in the sport to do something beneficial for the players. It’s gross that we would be willing to sacrifice the lives of so many men for sport. It would have been one thing if the players had known what was happening to them and were willing undertaking the risk (still gross, but not as terrible). But the NFL was actively covering up research to that effect.

People harassed Dr. Omalu for conducting the research and pursuing the investigation. Still, with the support of his wife, he persisted. We are all better for it.

This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you’re a fan of American football. It really makes you think twice about the game. Will Smith turns in a somewhat convincing performance as Omalu. The supporting cast was really great – Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw were engaging, intense, and awesome to watch.