Will Smith takes on his most slippery role in years as the real-life forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu, who discovered a disease linked to head trauma in NFL football players. A Nigerian-born academic, we meet Omalu living in Pittsburgh, performing autopsies when the body of ex- Pittsburgh Steelers centre Mike Webster is wheeled into his examination room. After months of study, Omalu identifies a degenerative brain disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). All of which is a serious matter worthy of attention, and ‘Concussion’ piles on its damning evidence: from slurring linebackers to Luke Wilson as the sport’s dead-eyed commissioner.
In Pittsburgh, a town where the sport is practically a religion, Omalu’s news goes down like a lead balloon. The chief coroner (Albert Brooks) does what he can to protect his crusader but knows that they’re encroaching on sacred ground. ‘Concussion’ could have used the political backbone of Smith’s ‘Ali’ director Michael Mann. Instead, it has Peter Landesman, who steers both lead actor and screenplay away from the sharper edges. A decent, beautiful woman (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) comes to our hero’s side, and even though the NFL is shown as being uncaring, there’s a deeper story here about racism and post-9/11 America clinging to its Sunday traditions that’s barely explored.