Review: Head Games (2012)

head games

I played a lot of sports growing up, and I’m sure I suffered my share of concussions!

Written By: No One
Directed By: Steve James

My whole life I believed that I had only suffered three concussions. Three times I had my bell rocked, once in football and twice in mixed martial arts, to the point where I was diagnosed with a concussion. The reasons I stopped fighting, or competing in any contact sport really, was because I didn’t want any more damage to my brain. The brain is a valuable commodity, and I happen to value my commodity very much. The most surprising aspect of Head Games was to discover that I probably suffered at least thirty or more concussions in my contact sport life that were never diagnosed. Sitting out a few plays during a football game because I was seeing stars following a particularly nasty collision was not uncommon. Feeling dizzy and nauseous after a boxing match happened just about every time I laced up my boots. I always thought dealing with such problems were a natural part of being a contact sport athlete, and nothing at all to worry about.

I was wrong, but I was also right in a way. Concussions, and concussion like symptoms, are a natural part of the life of a contact sport athlete. They are, however, something to worry a heck of a lot about. Head Games made me worry, not just about my past, but about my daughters future. She competes in karate and plays soccer, she’s also a very rough and tumble girl who loves being active. What am I gong to do when she suffers a concussion during soccer? How about after she suffers her second concussions? Do I even let it get to the point where a third concussion is a possibility? Head Games creates these questions in the mind of the viewer, and it does so in the cleanest way possible, by stating facts. There’s nothing that grabs someone’s attention better that cold, hard scientific facts.

Steve James uses a combination of intelligent people, the occasional opposing viewpoint, investigative journalists, people affected by concussions, and news footage to lay out the case for the danger of concussions. I would put forth that Mr. James is never actually saying that concussions are bad, and that may be why the documentary is a sobering final product. Head Games presents, and that’s all it ever truly does. It presents information, it provides limited counter points, and it even brings forth some doubt from the people who believe vehemently that concussions are bad. Mr. James’ documentary doesn’t take a side, but by presenting clean information and well investigated science it leaves the viewer with two basic choices. Either the viewer is going to come away from Head Games concerned about concussions, or they will come away from Head Games choosing to remain woefully ignorant about the dangers of concussions. Either way, Head Games stays neutral and allows the mind of the viewer to do all the work, and that’s a sign of a great documentary.

There are faults to be found in Head Games. I was very distressed that the film put forth the notion that concussions occur more often in young girls and female athletes and then didn’t bother to follow up on the thread. Head Games let me down when it came to that topic, and it could have easily explored the issue or had a talking head that stated there’s no conclusive data yet about why young girls and female athletes suffer more concussions. Instead Head Games ignored that bit of information, and I’m not sure why. I also wasn’t a fan of the few instances where Head Games parlayed in reenactments. They looked bad, were distracting, and weren’t needed in the film. The reenactments in Head Games were like a harsh slap to the face reminding me that I was watching a movie, and not immersed in an experience.

Warts aside, I really dug Head Games. It left me with a lot of information to mull over. Mr. James’ film was well made, and was thought provoking without pushing an agenda. Concussions in contact sports is an issue that needs more traction in the sports community. If Head Games can get even five people to take a second look at the health of their children when playing sports, then that’s a job well done. As a film, and and as a warning that comes about through the presentation of facts, Head Games is a rousing success.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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