CON­CUS­SION

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES -

Di­rec­tor: Peter Lan­des­man ( Park­land) Star­ring: Will Smith, Alec Bald­win, Gugu Mbatha- Raw, Luke Wil­son, David Morse, Al­bert Brooks Ver­dict: Clos­ing down a school of hard knocks

THE hero is a Nige­rian foren­sic pathol­o­gist. The vil­lain is Amer­ica’s Na­tional Foot­ball League. The story – sadly, but sig­nif­i­cantly – is true.

A fac­tual drama where the un­der­ly­ing mes­sage is pow­er­ful enough to shut down the screen­play’s over- mawk­ish ten­den­cies, Con­cus­sion chron­i­cles a break­through dis­cov­ery that car­ried se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions for con­tact sports all over the world.

In 2002, while work­ing as a coro­nial re­searcher in Pitts­burgh, Dr. Ben­net Omalu ( played by Will Smith) di­ag­nosed a then- un­known dis­ease specif­i­cally con­fined to ex- NFL play­ers.

Nam­ing the con­di­tion CTE ( chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy), Omalu found the cause to be a di­rect con­se­quence of a long ca­reer spent in the elite ranks of Amer­i­can foot­ball.

The mul­ti­ple blows to the head sus­tained dur­ing this time – which could run to as much as 50,000 highG- force hits – re­sulted in a ter­ri­fy­ing and ir­re­versible ar­ray of symp­toms.

Rapidly de­bil­i­tat­ing mo­tor skills, sud­den and un­char­ac­ter­is­tic out­bursts of ag­gres­sion, pro­nounced de­men­tia ( at ages as early as 40), re­peated thoughts ( and full- blown acts) of sui­cide.

You would think that such a shock­ing dis­cov­ery would have alarm bells ring­ing in the halls of the NFL. Omalu cer­tainly did.

How­ever, rather than act im­me­di­ately in the in­ter­ests of pro­tect­ing its play­ers, the NFL moved heaven and earth to re­as­sure the pub­lic “there’s nothin’ to see here, folks”.

In fact, the NFL spent more time try­ing to smear Omalu’s rep­u­ta­tion – por­tray­ing the dis­tin­guished medico as a to­tal quack – than it did tak­ing a look at his chill­ingly con­clu­sive find­ings.

It took sev­eral more years – and the sud­den, CTE- re­lated melt­downs of sev­eral more ex- play­ers – be­fore the NFL fi­nally ad­mit­ted some­thing might be wrong. Though sports fans with a fas­ci­na­tion for the back­room pol­i­tics of big- time foot­ball will hap­pily ac­cept the honourable in­ten­tions of Con­cus­sion at face value, the film does have its work cut out con­vinc­ing non- jocks it is worth two full hours of their time.

There­fore the broad ap­peal tar­geted by Will Smith’s per­for­mance as Omalu is of paramount im­por­tance. Some view­ers will find the film over­plays the saintly virtues of the man, tak­ing him dan­ger­ously close to the brink of car­i­ca­ture.

That may be so, but Smith still does a fine job of com­mu­ni­cat­ing the stub­born re­silience of Omalu, an ad­mirably un­apolo­getic whistle­blower so com­mit­ted to the CTE cause he paid for his life- sav­ing re­search out of his own pocket.

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