Studio: Sony (2 hr. 3 min.)
Plot: Accomplished pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu uncovers the truth about brain damage in football players who suffer repeated concussions.
Cast: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Morse, Hill Harper, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Bottom Line: **
By Laurence Washington
Will Smith gives and emotional performance as real-life forensic neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, the doctor who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — the deadly brain trauma football players suffer after receiving years of concussions.
However, Smith’s performance isn’t enough to raise the level of this uneven film, which needs a little bit more of a bite. “Concussion” doesn’t rain on the NFL’s parade – it sprinkles. Maybe because like the characters in the film, the filmmakers are too worried about pissing off the NFL. So a good portion of the film focuses on Omalu’s life, instead of bone crushing gridiron action. Much of the film emphasis surrounds Omalu marriage to Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a Kenyan immigrant who appreciates his tenacity and commitment to take on the powerful NFL.
That aside, “Concussion” does cover a serious and important issue, the side effects of brain trauma. To the film’s credit, the violence happens off camera, as players suffering from CTE commit suicide and die from heart attacks.
Omalu publishes his finding in a medical journal after preforming an autopsy on Pittsburg Steeler’s hall of famer “Iron Mike” Webster (David Morse). Omalu suspects after years of head-on collisions during football games, Webster’s neurodegenerative disease brought on his Alzheimer and dementia.
Of course the NFL takes issue with Omalu’s article and demands that he publically admits it was false. When that fails, they try to discredit him. But ah, there’s the rub. The NFL knew all along that many former players were suffering from depression, violent mood swings, homelessness and drug addition. Omalu just put a label on it.
Omalu is naïve to the fact that the NFL is running a sports entertainment business that yields billions annually, not a healthcare system to save player’s lives. However, Omalu is on a personal crusade with former Steelers’ team physician, Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), who insist the NFL “Tell The Truth.”
“Concussion” comes at a pivotal time in NFL history as the league settled last year with 5,000 former players who have signs of CTE. In addition, the NFL has extended an offer to any NFL player who wants to see the film, can see it for free. Which is a move in the right direction.
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This article was printed in the January 10, 2016 - January 23, 2016 edition.