By Bob Bloom
“Concussion” is a David vs. Goliath story about an individual taking on one of the nation’s most cherished institutions.
The movie’s biggest irony is that the man, Dr. Bennet Omalu, is a Nigerian immigrant who does battle with America’s biggest and most popular sport — football.
Omalu, played by Will Smith, is the Pittsburgh forensic neuropathologist who discovered CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the brain disorder that afflicts many former pro football players because of continuous head traumas and concussions.
At the outset of his crusade, Omalu’s superior, Dr. Cyril Wecht —a witty and smart Albert Brooks — warns him that he is taking on a corporation that “owns a day of the week,” the one that used to belong to church.
But Omalu is undeterred. He is resolute about publicizing the truth to protect current players and future generations of potential athletes.
This uphill struggle eventually leads to new safety protocols in the NFL as well as compensation for former players.
To his credit, Smith does not make Omalu saintly — or even likable. He is arrogant — more than once when he is called Mr. Omalu, he corrects people with “doctor” — and stubborn, a bit awkward and, to his credit, totally ignorant about football and how ingrained it is in the American psyche.
“Concussion” is a solid film, but director Peter Landesman, who wrote the script, cannot keep from offering some Hollywood touches, such as when Omalu’s wife, Prema, played by the lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw, is driving and becomes paranoid when she believes she is being followed, or when Omalu receives death-threat phone calls at home.
The movie features a lineup of solid performers, including Alec Baldwin as Julian Bailes, a former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who becomes an ally of Omalu, and David Morse as former Steeler great Mike Webster, whose death at 50 spurs Omalu’s research.
Even though his role is small, Morse brings a devastating sadness to his Webster. Because of CTE, he is reduced to using drugs and living in his van. He is a pathetic sight, confused, frightened and angry because he does not know nor can he control, what is happening to him. He haunts, not only Omalu, but also us, throughout the film.
The main casting mistake is Luke Wilson as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He is given little to do and becomes more a caricature than a cagey executive or formidable opponent.
“Concussion” may make you think twice about letting your child participate in football. It also may change the way you view the professional gladiators who, it now seems, put their lives at risk to entertain and thrill us.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
3 stars out of 4
(PG-13), disturbing images, mature themes, language