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Film / Concussion

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"Tell the truth!"

Concussion is a 2015 dramatic thriller produced by Ridley Scott, written and directed by journalist-turned-filmmaker Peter Landesman, and starring Will Smith.

The movie tells the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith), a Nigerian-born pathologist based in Pittsburgh who, after conducting an autopsy on the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (who had been suffering from severe physical and mental illness since his retirement), discovers extensive brain damage known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in Webster's brain, presumably as a result of the large number of head injuries he sustained during his career in the NFL.

Omalu digs deeper, with the help of his mentor Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks) and NFL insider Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and discovers what appears to be an insidious coverup by the League, denying the connection between Football and mental illness, despite a long and increasing list of players who were traumatized by the injuries they sustained. Omalu himself eventually becomes caught in the crossfire, with the League trying to discredit both the work and the man himself.

The movie also stars Gugu Mbatha Raw, Eddie Marsan, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse, and Luke Wilson.

See also League of Denial, a 2013 book and PBS Frontline documentary about the NFL's concussion crisis.

Tropes Associated With This Movie Include:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real Bennet Omalu is short, stocky, and rotund. Here he's played by Will Smith.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Dave Duerson's surviving family claims this about him, while Dave in the film is an Asshole Victim.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: All of the football players, including Duerson as they start to succumb to CTE.
  • Anti-Villain: Dr. Maroon; he's clearly shaken by Bennet's What the Hell, Hero? and mentions he'll do what he can to secure an audience with the NFL, but his loyalties lie with his boss at the expense of players' health.
  • Asshole Victim: Dave Duerson makes it clear that he thinks Omalu is full of shit, going so far as to physically confront him and call him a liar. He suffers a mental breakdown and shoots himself as he realizes in horror that he, too, is beginning to lose his mind to CTE.
  • The Atoner: Dr. Bailes, who used to work for the NFL as a team doctor. His Heel–Face Turn occurs when Mike Webster dies after visiting him. Dr. Omalu calls him out for this in a fit of anger at the Concussion Summit, but he understands why Dr. Bailes is helping him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Bennet gets Vindicated by History and ultimately proven right about CTE in football players, even offered a job by the government as an apology for sending the FBI after him, but he sees the allure of football for the new generation and now knows the lengths to which people will go to cover up great scandals. Also many surviving players will suffer the ramifications of having played, and change will come slowly through the NFL lines.
  • Body Horror: "Iron Mike" Webster is seen tazing himself, and the condition of his skin suggests that this has become habitual. It's topped during his autopsy, when it's revealed that he pulled out his own teeth and superglued them back in.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Omalu's eccentricities (including speaking to the bodies he autopsies) combined with his arrogance, make him an easy target for a smear campaign.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Dave Duerson. His death is the first in-film that the NFL can't cover up with excuses, and ends up proving that Dr. Omalu was right about CTE and incurs a federal investigation.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Pretty much anybody associated with the NFL, but Roger Goodell is seen as the Big Bad.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Dave Duerson after committing suicide leaves a note saying that Dr. Omalu was right. This leads to the investigation into the NFL and Dr. Omalu getting vindicated
  • Determinator: Omalu doesn't stop until CTE is acknowledged, and he won't retract his medical research.
  • Forgiveness: Dr. Omalu refers to it in his climatic speech, that he offers forgiveness to the NFL for what they did, and he hopes they can forgive themselves.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Dr. Omalu has forgiven the NFL doctors and corporation for what they did, but he will not back down on his findings. Neither will Congress.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Omalu, as far as the NFL is concerned, at least.
  • Hearing Voices: A symptom of CTE.
  • Historical Villain Downgrade: It would have been easy for Roger Goddell to be The Scapegoat for the NFL's denial. While becoming the central target in the midst of the NFL's horrendous denial in real-life and the film, Goddell is not seen directing a denial policy and is simply just a figurehead to the more general awfulness of the NFL.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: Omalu is a major believer in the American Dream, at least until he becomes a target of the NFL.
  • Insult to Rocks: Dr. Omalu says that the trumped-up charges against his mentor Cyril Wecht wouldn't fly in Nigeria. This says a lot, given Nigeria has a long-time history of corruption.
  • Meaningful Name: A rare real-life example in that Omalu is a shortened form of the surname Onyemalukwube, which translates to "he who knows, speaks."
  • The Mentor: Cyril Wecht to Omalu.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Maroon, who despite having taken the Hippocratic Oath dismisses Dr. Omalu's scientific research as "fallacious" despite the burden of proof and makes it clear his loyalties lie with the NFL. Dr. Bailes lampshades how easy it is to become this as an NFL team doctor since you get sucked up in the love of football.
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • Dr. Bailes when he sees the microsopic brain tissue of the players that he treated.
    • Dr. Maroon in the climax when Dr. Omalu gives his speech to the NFL.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Will Smith does a competent job at a Nigerian accent, but sounds American on random syllables.
  • Outside-Context Problem: A major element of the movie. Omalu was a Nigerian-born intellectual who hadn't even heard of football before he conducted the autopsy on Mike Webster.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: Dr. Omalu explains to Prema how brain trauma manifests itself in football players by explaining that, unlike animals with built-in "shock absorbers" around their brain, human brains are disconnected from the skull and susceptible to irreparable damage from repeated impacts. To illustrate, he fiercely rattles an eyeball inside a jar of fluid, repeatedly slamming it into the sides of the jar, mimicking what happens to the brain when shaken by a violent hit.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Omalu is a devout Christian.
    • His wive's faith in God is equally unwavering and repeteadly helps Dr. Omalu to do what is right.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Dr. Omalu offers this to Prema. He doesn't even complain when she puts the TV on while he's working.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: The NFL sends the FBI after Cyril Wecht so as to discredit Dr. Omalu. As an apology, the government then offers a job to Dr. Omalu in 2011 and dismisses the charges against Dr. Wecht. Dr. Omalu turns down the job.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Following his wife's miscarriage and his mentor being pressed with federal charges, Dr. Omalu moves his family to California while refusing to retract his statements.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran:
    • Prema survived a brutal assault on arriving to New York. She rarely gets triggered in the film but hides her trauma under a Stepford Smiler persona.
    • All of the football players, starting with Mike Webster.
  • Shipper on Deck: Dr. Omalu's church group for him and Prema. It's why the Father asks him to take in Prema for a short time.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: When a threatening caller addresses Dr. Omalu as "Mr. Omalu," a deliberate slight against him that implies that he is not a real doctor, Dr. Omalu corrects him, saying, "Doctor Omalu."
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • CTE makes this happen in its victims, where they stop taking care of themselves and may even commit suicide after asking for help. What's worse, as Dr. Omalu notes, it doesn't show up on brain scans so the patient may not even know they're suffering from CTE.
    • Dave Duerson dismisses the evidence of CTE, not realizing that as a football player he could possibly suffer it. And he does, paying with his life.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: Dr. Omalu by the end of the movie. Fortunately it doesn't affect his professionalism.
  • Villainous Breakdown: You can practically see the NFL representatives sweat when Congress starts talking about and inquiring about the injuries that have been happening.
  • Vindicated by History: The inversion is invoked by Dr. Omalu during his What the Hell, Hero? speech to Dr. Maroon, who points out that history laughs at the doctors who do nothing and violate their oath. Eventually Dr. Omalu receive vindication as well.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dr. Omalu chews out Dr. Maroon for ignoring his Hippocratic Oath when "his" men are dying on the field, and for attempting to discredit actual research. Dr. Maroon is visibly shaken by this, but he only says he'll think about the summit and does nothing to help. His My God, What Have I Done? expression when Dr. Omalu gives his second talk in the climax and offers Forgiveness shows that the lecture may have hit him.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Dr. Omalu may be studying for his MBA, but he has no idea how brutally corporations can suppress the truth. He grows out of it as the film goes on.