First look: Will Smith in Concussion

Smith tackles the NFL head on in this medical thriller about brain trauma.

Robert Chilton January 28, 2016

A mild-mannered, slightly eccentric pathologist, Dr Bennet Omalu, provides Will Smith the chance to flex his acting muscles in his new film Concussion.

Based on a true story, the film is part cover-up thriller, part medical drama, with a dash of sports movie thrown in. EDGAR got first look at the movie which comes out in UAE cinemas today (January 28). Here are the film’s talking points. 

Iron Mike
The film begins with the Hall of Fame acceptance speech from Mike Webster, an NFL great who won four Super Bowls in the 1970s with the all conquering Pittsburgh Steelers. Fast forward to a 50-year-old Webster suffering from depression, dizziness and headaches and the film sets off. 

Steel City
The setting for Concussion is Pittsburgh in 2002. It’s a tough, working class town that loves its football team. There are frequent aerial shots of the team’s stadium and of steel mills churning out smoke. 

Star player
Will Smith plays the brilliant forensic pathologist Dr Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian doctor living in Pittsburgh who is seduced by the American dream. Armed with a string of degrees and qualifications from educational institutes all over the world, Omalu now works in the morgue of a major Pittsburgh hospital performing autopsies.

His crucial discovery links concussions sustained in American football to brain disease. 

Team mates
Alec Baldwin is his usual commanding presence as Julian Bailes, a doctor who used to work with the Steelers but now realises that his ‘patch 'em up and put 'em on the field’ philosophy of treating players was irresponsible. He teams up with Omalu to help reveal the truth about concussion in the NFL.

Also lending solid support is grizzled veteran Albert Brooks as the cheerfully cynical and grouchy Dr Cyril Wecht. He is a mentor to Omalu and there is a genuine affection on screen between the two characters. 

Raw talent
Opposite Smith comes a fine performance from Gugu Mbatha-Raw. She announced her talent to the world in the superb 2013 period drama Belle for which she gained significant buzz and awards. 

Here comes the science
Some of the best scenes in Concussion are when the action moves into the lab. Microscopes, slides containing brain tissue, diagrams drawn on whiteboards and serious conversations between very clever doctors about chronic traumatic encephalopathy crank up the tension.

Tough tackling
The film is written and directed by Peter Landesman, who previously helmed CIA narcotics drama Kill The Messenger in 2014. Landesman peppers his film with real NFL footage of helmet-crushing tackles and wobbly-legged players to illustrate the physical impact that American football has on the human body.

Some of the hits are truly sickening and, along with the film, will add more noise to the ongoing debate in America about the safety of NFL players.

Concussion opens in the UAE on January 28.