For a country so engulfed in sporting culture, be it participating in, watching or betting on, it is rare that a movie about sport is an actual box office success. There are exceptions of course; Cool Runnings, Rocky, Chariots of Fire and Bull Durham come to mind. However traditionally sport themed films simply don’t often resonate to a mass local audience.
With the NRL, AFL and Union seasons all about to commence, a new film starring Hollywood superstar Will Smith has relevance to the topical much discussed issue of brain damage related illnesses caused by playing contact sport. Boxing has always had the focus on such issues but other sports are now being inspected for long term effects with more ex-players speaking out.
The concussion rule has been in place now for a few years in NRL having an immediate effect and even before this movie provoked awareness, many former players have given opinion or recalled their own experiences on head related trauma incidents.
What began as an article ‘Game-Brain’ in glossy monthly GQ magazine, this controversial true story about forensic pathologist and well studied neuropathologist Bennet Omalu putting the spotlight on a serious subject may trigger awareness to the already controversial subject.
Omalu became notorious, uncovering truth and statistics regarding a player receiving traumatic blows to the head. Linking current and former NFL players who had suffered repeated concussions to strains of dementia or in extreme cases death, Omalu shared sincerity with passion to shed light on the smokescreen created by managers, team doctors and the whole conglomerate NFL organisation.
Originally when the filmmakers began the financing and casting process, NFL did not endorse the production, they brought lawyers in to oversee script editing while also refusing to participate banning all logos or any insignia whatsoever of the league to be sighted in the movie.
They later relented ‘allowing’ the production to go ahead. However I don’t think this was necessarily a good thing as it seems certain facts have been held back or watered down, the restraint is mostly obvious. Smothering of responsibility is brought up, just not detailed.
It is said in the film that the NFL own a day of the week, gridiron is religion to a majority of Americans while the boardroom suits call the shots like they are actually out on the field. Will Smith himself said he rejected the script at first because he loved football so much and his son plays giving an extra impact to the story at hand.
Some may think that NFL footballers are all padded up wearing helmets, but they tackle head first, often diving superman style directly into the opposing player. Each time a person suffers a hit into the cranium, helmet or no helmet, the brain shakes inside the skull bouncing side to side. Nobody wants to hear it, including some sporting fraternities, research since Omalu began the study in 2002 is conclusive.
Any Given Sunday (1999) was a fantastic, no holds barred NFL sanctioned case study of a struggling team making it to the top directed by Oliver Stone. Ironically it covers many of the same issues in between coach Al Pacino’s roaring locker room speeches.
Will Smith can act no doubt, although his Nigerian accent seems a little shaky, luckily he did take the role giving one of the strongest performances of his career gaining a recent Golden Globe nomination. Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks co star alongside Smith in an imperial acting masterclass. Released into US cinemas during the height of the playoffs, Concussion was a box office flop, slow moving narrative and as mentioned, a sense of holding back the entire truth works against it but remains an important eye opening film that at least brings awareness to a serious subject that all footy code fans and families should see.
CONCUSSION: Rated M – 123 minutes. Now Showing.
**This writer played local Rugby League for 15 years suffering two major head knocks that stand out. One resulted in a cut mouth that probably should have had stitches, both times I played on because that is what you did then.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.