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Movie Review

Concussion

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language.

Reviewed by: Alexander Malsan
CONTRIBUTOR

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Sports Drama Thriller
Length:
2 hr. 3 min.
Year of Release:
2015
USA Release:
December 25, 2015 (wide—2,600+ theaters)
DVD: March 29, 2016
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

need for integrity

standing up for what you believe is right

difficulties of being an immigrant in America

dangers of head trauma / traumatic brain injury

denial, cover up / trying to discredit the message and the messenger

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

treating the dead with respect

Featuring: Will SmithDr. Bennet Omalu
Gugu Mbatha-Raw … Prema Mutiso
Luke WilsonRoger Goodell
Alec BaldwinDr. Julian Bailes
Bitsie Tulloch … Keana Strzelczyk
Stephen Moyer … Dr. Ron Hamilton
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje … Dave Duerson
Eddie MarsanDr. Steven DeKosky
David Morse … Mike Webster
Albert BrooksDr. Cyril Wecht
Matthew Willig … Justin Strzelczyk
more »
Director: Peter Landesman
Producer: The Cantillon Company
LStar Capital
more »
Distributor: Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures

“He will stop at nothing to expose the truth. / Based on a true story”

“Concussion” begins by looking into the life of Mike Webster. During his glory days, he was considered a revered and even legendary football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers

The year is 2002. Mike is not the same man he used to be. In fact, many have believed he’s started to go crazy. Sadly, Mike commits suicide.

It is here we are introduced to Dr. Bennet Omalu. He works for the Allegheny County Coroner’s Office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as the neuropathologist. Dr. Omalu is presented with Mike Webster’s body. As Dr. Omalu is performing the autopsy, he realizes that, physically, Mike Webster was relatively healthy. So why did Mike die the way he did?

Looking at Mike’s medical history, CT scans of Mike’s brain and brain tissue, Dr. Omalu discovers that indeed Mike committed suicide on account of a serious brain injury, which Dr. Omalu names CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), that can occur in football players who continue to play and “ram into each other” too many times, or after having a concussion, and continuing to play. Dr. Omalu concludes that CTE leads to a deterioration of the player (dementia, aggression, confusion, and memory loss) which leads to suicidal thoughts and actions.

As Dr. Omalu is presented with other football players who have suffered CTE, he publishes his findings, determined to persuade the National Football League (NFL) to perform further research on football player concussions. The NFL, however, does not want this bad publicity to come out, and so they do whatever it takes to silence Dr. Omalu and his research.

“Concussion” is a story of science and a story of sports. It is also a story of science, faith, and perseverance in the face of adversity.

Football is one of America’s most beloved past-times. Whether you watch football on your television on a occasional basis (like myself) or whether you are an avid fan, there is no denying the excitement, the thrills and the spectacle that football provides. We root for our team, we scream, we shout, and we emotionally involve ourselves in the game, much like with any other sport.

Football is also, though, a contact sport. One of the most aggressive contact-sports in the world. Players throw their entire bodies and aggression at each other, resulting in serious, sometimes even permanent or fatal injuries.

And this leads us to “Concussion.”

The Performances: The performance by Will Smith by Dr. Omalu was without a doubt one of the most powerful I have seen from Mr. Smith in a long time, the last one being “The Pursuit of Happiness”. He has shown incredible growth as an actor, from his time on the Fresh Prince of Bell Air to the present. My respect for Will Smith as an actor has been further strengthened by this performance. Alec Baldwin also plays a relatively strong supporting role, though I do wish he had a little more time to speak.

The Pacing: With a run time of over two hours, I have to say that for the most part I felt that there was a steady pace with “Concussion.” There were, however, some moments where the film did drag, particularly about an hour to an hour and a half into the film. This did, however, subside toward the end.

Content of concern

  • Violence: Moderate to Heavy. Violence includes a scene where Mike is shown electrocuting his leg and the results from this. We also see players commit suicide (one inhales ammonia, one is seen driving off the highway and the car explodes, a couple players shoot themselves). Many of these occur off-screen.

  • Language: The language was uncalled for and is one of the main reasons I have rated the film offensive. Language includes a**-hole (1), a** (2), f**k (1), sh*t (4), bull-sh*t (2), b**ch (1), S.O.B. (1), G*d (10), G**-d**n (5), h*ll (4), and two vulgar words related to female genitals. Jesus’ name is also taken in vain once.

  • Sex/Nudity: Sexual content is limited to a kiss between Dr. Omalu and Prema. Premarital sex is implied. Prema also mentions being raped.

  • Other: There are also multiple scenes involving blood, dissections and a few scenes involving alcohol

  • The Stance: The film, at times, feels as if it “demonizes” or demoralizes the National Football League. The NFL is shown, at times, as a giant, deceptive organization. They hide their concussion research findings from the general public, denouncing Dr. Omalu findings as non-credible. They attack Dr. Omalu’s employer at the Coroner’s office with false federal charges, etc.

The Dangers of Idolization

At one point in the movie, the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Wecht, says to Dr. Omalu:

“The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church USED to own.”

As I heard this, I couldn’t help but be reminded that, as Christians putting anything in this world above (entertainment, money or even people), or more important than, God is sinful and a form of idolatry. As it states in Exodus 20:3 (NIV)

You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

And in Exodus 20:4-6,

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Perseverance in Trials

In “Concussion,” we watch as Dr. Omalu is persecuted for what he believes in. And though, at times, we watch as he struggles against those who laugh at him, and he loses a loved one, he ultimately does not give up in his research and in helping others.

Editor’s Note: The real life Dr. Bennet Ifeakandu Omalu is a practicing Catholic, and says that his Christian faith is what drove him to stand up for the truth.

As Christians, we will all have trials, tribulations and crosses we must bear. God will call us to do the unimaginable, the impossible, when we least expect it. When this occurs though, our heavenly Father will never give up on us when we go through trial or tribulations.

“Trust in the Lord with all your hearts, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, , and he will direct your path” —Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Closing Thoughts

“Concussion” is a well-written and fine addition to the library of sports docu-dramas. The performances by both Will Smith and Alec Baldwin alone are worth the price of admission. I do recommend “Concussion” for viewing. However, I would be cautious of the heavy use of language, violence and use of sexual content. I only recommend the film for adults and older teens.

Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Heavy / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive
Positive—A first rate movie. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool football fan, although my wife is not. Yet, she enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s a definite buyer, and, when it comes out on DVD, we’ll be adding it to our collection. As enjoyable as the story line and the insight into the goings-on behind the scenes at the NFL were, what really pleased both of us, as devout Christians, was the positive light in which the main character’s Christian faith was portrayed. Hollywood usually goes out of its way to ridicule Christianity, but not this time.

Will Smith did an excellent job in his role as Dr. Bennett Omalu, as did each member of the supporting cast in their roles—Alec Baldwin, in particular. And it was a real eye-opener about the brain-injury issue in the NFL. I couldn’t care less if there were a couple of cuss words in the dialogue—that’s how a great many people speak, after all—and I think it’s laughable that so many Christian movie reviewers get all hung up on that and actually sit there counting the “hells” and “damns.”

In summary, I would highly recommend “Concussion” to football fans, Christians, or anyone else that would simply like to watch a great movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Don Bryant, age 65 (Canada)
Positive—I can’t believe your critic rated this film offensive. Sure, there is cussing, but it’s hard to imagine taking a film about football players, fans and the business of football seriously without it. More significant should be the serious Christianity of the main characters, as well as the general theme of the film. There are several films on how important and powerful American institutions are morally corrupt in preserving their wealth and power in the face of damaging realities (“Spotlight” about sexual abuse by Catholic priests is another), but football’s power also comes from the loyalties of its many fans. One character says “My daddy told me that God is number one (holding up two fingers) and football is number two (holding up one finger.)”

Anyway, the film is about the need for integrity, as well as calling on God to stand firm in the face of adversity. A subplot concerns the immigration stories of the lead character and his wife, where the immigrants are the ones who best uphold American values. Will Smith is cast against type and performs extremely well, being credible as an African immigrant doctor, both facially and with his accents (although some Nigerians find it inauthentic) and gave a performance that is certainly worthy of the Oscar nomination it didn’t get, fueling the present controversy over diversity in Hollywood. A number of relatively unknown African American actors do well in supportive roles.

The film may seem to have too many scattered Hollywood biopic qualities in its script and characterizations and lack the focus and hard-hitting qualities of the Frontline documentary “League of Denial” on the same subject, which will of course be seen by a lot fewer people than a Will Smith blockbuster. At some level, all of us must look to where our emotional loyalties lie, which is always an issue for people who both follow Jesus and live in a world where football owns Sundays and many Saturdays, as well. In any case, don’t let the occasional cuss words keep you from seeing and thinking about this film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Stanley Hirtle, age 70 (USA)
Movie Critics

…If it doesn’t dramatically alter the way you view the game, you’re willfully refusing to pay attention. …
—Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

…a hard-hitting drama…
—Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

…the film is sober, honest and serious about an important subject… [2½/4]
—Kyle Smith, New York Post

…hoary but well-meaning drama… Peter Landesman’s treatment never rings true… marred by a lack of believable characterisations that keep Concussion from what it needs to be: urgent. [2/5]
—Nigel M. Smith, The Guardian (UK)

…suffers from a simplistic, sermonizing script that could have used some editing. But it’s to be admired for bringing a truly important issue to the big screen…
—Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press

…“Concussion” doesn’t hit NFL “game brain” issue hard enough… under-realized standard biopic… [2/4]
—Linda Barnard, The Toronto Star

…a corny treatment but a surefire story… Sometimes a good story is enough, and “Concussion” is one of those cases. …
—Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

…For worse and better, this Sony production, which was written and directed by Peter Landesman, is a mainstream studio movie—worse because many of its faults and annoying banalities flow from the sort of clumsy script that afflicts many studio movies these days, and better precisely because the movie’s Hollywood provenance may bring its important subject to a mainstream audience. …
—Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal

…Hard-hitting “Concussion” may have tried to tackle a bit too much… writer-director Peter Landesman has pushed too hard to make this story fit into a dramatic mold, alternating melodrama and romance with those earnest warnings in a way that is more ungainly than effective. …
—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

…worries that it would represent a whitewash of professional football’s concussion epidemic are completely unfounded…
—Andrew Barker, Variety

…“Concussion” may be the usual Hollywood based-on trick, which is to say it’s roughly as accurate as a game of broken telephone at a Golden Globes after party, but it suffers a fair bit more from its plodding sense of self-righteousness, telling its story with all the grace and charm of a lecture about the importance of wearing your helmet. …
—David Berry, National Post

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