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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Concussion | Will Smith, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Alec Baldwin, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Concussion | Will Smith, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Alec Baldwin, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson | Review

“Like a fella once said, “Ain’t that a kick in the head?” --Sammy Cahn

When it comes to the game of football, the kicks, head-butts, slams, and cranial trauma all take their toll on players who, for decades, were told to shake it off, suck it up, and “get back out there.” If they were NFL professionals, they would retire relatively young from the brutal, toll-taking sport. And then some began to die.

But first, these men experienced memory loss, impaired judgment, poor impulse control, behavioral disturbances including aggression and depression, difficulty with balance, and a gradual onset of dementia. The reason was usually attributed to early onset Alzheimer’s, although no one ever questioned that unlikely explanation. When one man did, the NFL tried to punt the problem (and the man) away.

After the autopsy of 50-year-old Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster (David Morse) Nigerian-born pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) uncovers a neurological condition that has no name, so he gives it one - chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He attributes the condition to head injuries incurred in football games, but realizes that no one connected to the vast money-making juggernaut that is professional football (read NFL) will listen.

The multi-billion dollar industry, even when confronted with medical evidence from a series of deaths, including former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) also 50, engaged in a smear campaign against Omalu, including threats, public ridicule, medical expert refutations, and false safety assurances.

The NFL wants Omalu to shut up and go away. But Omalu refuses to go away, and pays a price that affects his family and livelihood as the NFL sweeps his discovery under a football-field-sized rug. The (literally) good doctor is discredited. His boss and mentor, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) suffers professional and legal consequences as well.

Omalu has an advocate in Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) a former NFL team doctor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at the West Virginia University School of Medicine. Bailes believes that Omalu’s discovery is accurate and tries to help him persuade the NFL to accept his research and act on it to prevent more deaths. Omalu’s wife Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is by his side to give him several speeches about not giving up, but the film is strongest when Omalu realizes that he must battle a seemingly inviolate American institution by NOT shutting up and going away.

Will Smith is the star player here, so believable as Dr. Bennett Omalu that it is possible to forget the actor and embrace the pathologist. David Morse turns in a frightening, poignant performance as the brain-injured, self-destructive Webster. Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin turn in memorable supporting performances within a large cast that also includes Paul Reiser and Luke Wilson.

Based on the 2009 GQ exposé Game Brain: Bennet Omalu, Concussions, and the NFL: How One Doctor Changed Football Forever by Jeanne Marie Laskas, writer-director Peter Landesman (Kill the Messenger) exposes the deception and cover-up disseminated by the powerful NFL, and the clinical integrity of CTE research pioneer Omalu. Slo-mo shots of various football maneuvers reveal a deadly choreography of collision and trauma, mixed with an adoring public that demands action for the price of admission.
The film, for the most part, is riveting, but takes an occasional detour into Omalu’s private life that decreases the momentum and ups the melodrama. Concussion works best when David and Goliath do battle, whether in meeting rooms, medical journals, or media coverage.

It took guts, persistence, and one very unpopular position, but the NFL now has a “concussion protocol” because one man had balls that had nothing to do with pigskin.

 

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