Saturday, July 23, 2016

Film Friday: Concussion (2015)

For some time now, a cadre of hard-left journalists looking for a modern Civil Rights cause to claim as their own have been waging a war against the NFL. Joining this cause is the film Concussion. It tanked in theaters, earning only $48 million on its production budget of $57 million, and it did so for a reason: the film sucks, in addition to being pure propaganda.

Rather than outlining the plot, let me start by telling you why this film sucked. Putting aside the issue of it being pure propaganda, this is just not a good film. The film is morose at best – the direct thinks it’s ironically tense. There are no good moments. There are no moments of inspiration and no moments of genuine outrage. There are no exciting moments either; everything was dull. There are no peaks or valleys. The colors are dull. The acting of Will Smith was dull (his wife was full of bullship to claim he didn’t get an award because of racism). The story is dull. Every scene involves people standing or sitting in a room talking until they reach the conclusion you knew was coming all along. The film even deals with a couple suicides and yet presents those in about as dull a manner possible.
What I really want to talk about though is how biased this film was. This film turns you off quickly unless you are a true believer.

The film follows Dr. Bennet Omala (Will Smith), a forensic pathologist with the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh. Omala is a Nigerian American and he was the first to discover chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This is a medical condition which results in destructive proteins attacking the brain’s tissue after repeated traumatic blows to the head, i.e. concussions.

The film opens showing Omala testifying in court to save a wrongly convicted man from the death sentence. He begins by modestly listing his credentials. This goes on several minutes and is meant to get the audience to believe that (1) Omala is ultra-qualified in and beyond his field and (2) he is humble and should be liked. He then tells us why the convicted man could not have been the killer. His analysis is simple to grasp and demonstrates that Omala thinks about things others ignored and has a gift for seeing obvious things that people with a political interest, e.g. prosecutors, either intentionally or recklessly overlook. We also learn that his primary motivating trait in life is to save people.

In other words, he’s a saint.
Not convinced yet? Ok. In the next scene, a priest asks Omala to take in and look after a young woman who has just come from Africa and needs a home. He agrees, of course. And when he brings her to his home, he even takes her luggage from her so she need not carry it. He is a saint after all.

Still not sure? Ok. His boss at the hospital warns him that he needs to be more willing to go with the crowd and to stop being so gosh darn pure.

By this point, the film has cast Omala as the ultimate unimpeachable source. We’ve seen his noble, humble bearing. Everyone else in the film will slouch. We’ve heard his credentials which are absolutely nothing special, but which are presented as amazing. Of course, we will hear no one else’s credentials, as the film wants you to see him as the only expert. We’ve learned he acts only with the most selfless of motives. With every other character, we are constantly reminded of their economic interest. Even a man in the streets we are told doesn’t want his city’s investment in a football stadium wasted.

Next the film sets up the conflict, and it does so in the most strawman of manners. When Omala discovers CTE, his medical bosses immediately threaten to suspend him and deny him any chance to move forward to confirm his diagnosis. Why? They're scared. Everyone is on the NFL’s payroll and doctors are too terrified to go against the NFL – characters even whisper when discussing things the NFL won’t like. Indeed, we are assured that the NFL is so powerful that it “owns a day of the week.” Its stadiums are the heart of cities like Pittsburgh. To destroy football would bring the wrath of millions of fans. Of course, the fact that CTE wouldn’t destroy football at all is never mentioned. Nor is the fact that the players union is intensely contentious against the NFL and would happily use this against the NFL. In the story, they are beholden to the NFL.

Moreover, the world is dangerously pro-NFL. Everywhere Omala goes, he causally makes some mention of the Steelers only to have average citizens verbally attack him.
Fortunately, Omala is allowed to continue his research by his brave boss who warns him that they better win or the NFL will destroy them. Suddenly, Omala is being followed by cars. He’s being mocked in the press, getting hateful phone calls, and being told to leave America because he’s clearly not one of us. And then the FBI shows up to arrest his brave boss on trumped up charges that Omala lets us know wouldn’t even fly in corrupt Nigeria – never mind that his boss was really arrested on fraud charged three months before Omala goes public with the CTE issue.

They threaten Omala and basically demand that he testify falsely against his boss or he will be charged as well. He refuses and instead agrees to resign and go away. They then threaten to deport him.
At this point, we also learn from an insider that the NFL knows about the CTE issue! Sacre bleu! In fact, they studied it, but their methods get mocked, even though their methods seem more thorough that Omala’s. The evil NFL wants people to die! And once again, the other doctors Omala tries to get to help him tell us how much the NFL provides to communities, so no one will go against it. They’re all complicit!

Here’s the thing. CTE could be real. It makes sense to me and I personally suspect it’s true. But this movie was so obnoxious that it had me wanting to see Omala fail. The film canonizes Omala at every turn. He has no flaws. It feels the need to make him unimpeachable as a professional, beyond biased, noble of heart, and nice to the point of meekness... a longtime indicator of propaganda is when the hero is meek.

At the same time, it not only demonizes those who oppose Omala, but it creates this bizarre world where average people act like they are going to hunt him in the streets if he reveals the dirty secret everyone knows but pretends isn’t real.
Now, again, I don’t doubt that the NFL was resistant to this idea. But the film goes further than that and essentially suggests that the NFL knows about CTE and is covering up by blackmailing every doctor, hospital, expert and politician in the country. This is bullship. It’s the kind of paranoid garbage leftists buy into when they are shocked to discover that people don’t accept their issues.

The film also presents a purely biased point of view. Obvious counter points get excluded. The credentials of competing experts are ignored and their supposed bias gets announced. In a rather dirty moment, they present David Duerson as an NFL hack who mocks the players with CTE until one kills himself, until Duerson kills himself when he too gets it. His family denies that Duerson ever did this.
They also never present contrary evidence. This film draws a connection between CTE and suicide, and dwells on several suicides... which it telescopes as if they all happen at once even though they are years apart. However, the CDC itself examined the health of NFL players. It found that NFL players are 42% less likely to die from cancer, 86% less likely to die from tuberculosis, and 59% less likely to die from suicide. And despite the film showing at least three and maybe more suicides as if they happened within weeks of each other, the CDC found that between 1959 and 1988, only nine former players killed themselves.

I’m not saying that advocacy films need to be unbiased, but there is a point where things go from being advocacy to being glaringly one-sided to being total smears. This film was a smear, and that hurt it tremendously. Having seen it, I am left wondering why this was even a film rather than a documentary. I am left wondering why the film was so shady too about a theory that seems to make sense and appears to be supported by lots of evidence. Are they hiding something?

That’s the problem. This is a propaganda piece for true believers and no one else. No wonder it failed. Thoughts?


Steve from MKE said...

Glad you brought up Dave Duerson, since his teammate, Gary Fencik, is alive and well. How can that be?

Koshcat said...

Regarding the question as to why it was a film rather than a documentary is answered by your critique of the film. It wasn't scary enough so the issue had to be increased several levels into the fiction-sphere to get your attention. Football players know that their careers are relatively short and they will be left with lifelong problems and that is why they want to get paid as much as possible while they are healthy. CTE is just one of those potential problems. Most players don't suffer from it. What the NFL does poorly compared to other professional sports, especially MLB, is provide a life-long pension for the retired players. MLB funds it through the sale of baseball cards. For the amount of money these players generate, this should be something demanded by the players union.

AndrewPrice said...

Steve, I have heard that the family is very very angry with how he gets portrayed and I can see why. It's truly rare that a film, even one "based on real events" takes a real human and smears them like they did with Duerson without a lot of proof it happened.

Speaking of possible causes of suicide, by the way, which I take is your point by showing that his teammates didn't all die as well... I saw a thing about Junior Seau and suicide. It turns out that he has was in several super high risk categories for suicide including being Samoan, who apparently have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. So simply saying, "It must have been CTE" is again not accurate.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, That's it exactly. They wanted to scare people. I think they also wanted to canonize Omala in a way that wouldn't work in a documentary. They really go all out to try to sell his personality to you in this film rather than his analysis.

That said, I don't doubt that CTE is real or that it is a problem. But even if it is, that doesn't change much. You try to reduce the number of helmet to helmet hits in the game and otherwise you do as you say, you set up a pension/health scheme and maybe some counseling. I would never accept the idea that we need to ban football because of this.

The thing is this, life is risky. Every time someone does anything, they run a certain set of risks. And what you do is you consider whether the benefits of the activity outweigh the risk of the bad thing happening and the chance of it happening.

Right now, it looks like CTE is something that will affect a handful of players for whom it may or may not become a significant problem. For those people, I feel sorry, but there probably isn't a player in the league who would give up playing because of the possibility of this happening to them. Just like there isn't a coal miner who gives up his job because he might get black lung or a pilot because he might crash.

The critics, however, want to kill football and this is just their latest tool. That's why their analysis is so paranoid and extreme: "the NFL is hiding the truth that NFL players will kill themselves once their careers are over!!!" No, not true on any level. And you are damaging your cause in saying that garbage.

Be reasonable. This film does not accept that lesson.

tryanmax said...

Andrew, I don't know much about the NFL and I haven't seen this movie, but I have noticed a lot of pandering to "true believers" lately. The first that comes to mind is a sequence in the Ed Helm's Vacation movie. I won't go into detail but basically, the gag only works if you assume conservatives are idiots and hypocrites. Otherwise, it's non sequitur. I'm also reminded of the line at the end of Dope. And don't forget Cars 2.

The number of films that do this are still in the vast minority, but they seem to be happening more often.

Allena-C said...

Wait, you mean the NFL aren't really trying to kill off all their players by encouraging them to get more concussions?
I mean, why wouldn't the NFL be evil? They make money, like the evil BIG pharmaceutical companies which is evil, everyone knows that!
Anyone who makes a profit is EVIL!
Case in point: this movie didn't make a profit which proves they are not evil.
Plus the NFL somehow found a way to stop them from making a profit, which they would've used to help the millions of players who are committing suicide everyday because the NFL wants them to!

This is all so confusing. 😳

Allena-C said...

Excellent review btw. This is so obviously over the top prooaganda, and they really hurt their cause even more by fabricating so many lies, and in such a unentertaining way.
to make matters worse, they even try to make the fans complicit. Not very smart, since they needed more people to watch this steaming pile of crap, not less.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I am seeing more of it too. I think it's the natural consequence of being surrounded only by people who have similar views. Little by little, your more "out there" views start to sound reasonable because everybody shares them.

AndrewPrice said...

Allena, Thanks! :)

I think the problem with people who get too deeply into a cause is that they start to see the opposition as evil rather than having a different opinion. And with the left, that view is spreading to all their causes.

The NFL for whatever reason has become one of their targets. There are dozens of leftist journalists who jump on anything that happens as a reason to shut down the NFL. CTE was just another one of those causes, and this film was meant to help that cause.

Allena-C said...

Hi Andrew,
Yeah, it's both pathetic and sad that some people think they will feel better by causing problems and eventually destroying the NFL.
These peopke are consumed with hate, and they can't stand it when other people are enjoying themselves, so they want ti destroy everything that hrings joy.
IOW's, what you said, lol.

AndrewPrice said...

Allena, That's definitely part of it. A lot of these people are simply consumed with hate and jealously and they want to see something that is successful and which others enjoy destroyed.

Others want to become important and they think that by attacking something like the NFL, they can make themselves important.

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