Review: 'Concussion' mixes exciting mystery with awkward romance

Will Smith as Dr Bennet Omalu. (Golden Village Pictures)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 122 minutes (~2 hours)

“Concussion” is a sports and medical drama based on Dr Bennet Omalu’s discovery of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players. It focuses on the African doctor’s struggle for recognition in an American environment. It stars Will Smith (Dr Bennet Omalu), Alec Baldwin (Dr Julian Bailes), Albert Brooks (Dr Cyril Wecht), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Perma Mutiso), and David Morse (Mike Webster). It is rated PG-13.

It’s interesting, although a bit disconcerting, to see Will Smith put on a thick African accent for his outing as African doctor Dr Omalu in “Concussion.” The film takes a lot of effort to ease us into this new perception of Will Smith, even devoting an entire monologue to him in the introduction to let us get used to his accent. And that buy in is critical, because your appreciation of the film hinges on whether you truly believe in his portrayal as an African doctor in America.

Dr Omalu and Dr Bailes (Alec Baldwin). (Golden Village Pictures)


Act One plays out like a murder mystery

The pacing for Act One is perfect, with each beat unfolding like an intense crime investigation. Each discovery builds upon the previous one, until Dr Omalu reaches an inescapable conclusion. You learn about the medical case at the same pace that our protagonists do, which immerses you more deeply into the film.

Dr Bennet Omalu’s characterisation

While Dr Omalu is an intelligent fellow, he’s also capable of wit and humour, as evidenced by his many comic (but not inappropriately timed) moments. It adds a more human dimension to a human being who is otherwise out of league, intellectually speaking. His genuine passion for his work and his concern for his fellow man also add a moral dimension to his character, showing us that his heart is just as big as his brain. These admirable qualities prompt us to root for him, which is important when he faces impossible odds in the third Act.

Medical science is explained in an accessible fashion

Lots of analogies are used to explain the basic science behind CTE, without sacrificing any of the key medical terms that are necessary components of the condition. It’s fine balancing act of simplicity and jargon, and the film pulls this off with exposition that’s succinct but interesting.

Dr Omalu’s revelation. (Golden Village Pictures)


A horribly awkward romance

Too much time is wasted on this romantic drivel. The romance between Dr Omalu and Perma is weird and forced, and develops without proper setup or emotion. The lines between the couple are cheesy and corny, and ends up bloating a film which would otherwise have been the perfect length. It’s the most awful part of the film, and your hair stands every time they interact.

An unnecessary love interest

Perma serves no other story purpose but to fulfill the needs of Dr Omalu’s romantic life, but as mentioned above, that romance is a terrible waste of time. Perma doesn’t advance the plot, provide exposition or create character growth in Dr Omalu. Her inclusion was completely useless, and lengthens the film needlessly.

Accents don’t match

The problem is that Dr Omalu and Perma’s accents don’t match each other in terms of thickness and fluency. Dr Omalu seems to have the heavier accent, but it comes across as distinctly unnatural. Perma’s on the other hand, has a blend of different accents, and sounds more natural. It’s this inconsistency between the two accents that accentuates the fact that Dr Omalu’s accent is artificial, forcing you to consciously suspend your disbelief to believe in Will Smith’s performance as Dr Omalu.

Dr Bailes and Dr Omalu’s heated discussion. (Golden Village Pictures)

“Concussion” is an exciting medical drama that touches on one of America’s greatest joys, American soccer. If the awful romance could have been jettisoned, “Concussion” would have a much tighter and enjoyable film.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? If you like sports and/or medical dramas.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

“Concussion” opens in cinemas 14 January, 2016 (Thursday).