Movies, Drama
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Will Smith goes deep as a foreign-born doctor raising alarms about football, but a conventional script blitzes him.

Departing from a career-long catalog of heroes, Will Smith takes on his most slippery role since Six Degrees of Separation (still his best performance) as real-life brain doctor Bennet Omalu. A proudly accomplished Nigerian-born academic living in something of a prissy fog in blue-collar Pittsburgh, Omalu is content to perform unrushed autopsies, until the cadaver of ex-Steeler Mike Webster is wheeled into his examination room. After months of self-funded study, Omalu concludes that football is a hazardous game, one that needs to be stopped.

The degenerative brain disease that Omalu identified, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is a serious matter worthy of attention. Concussion leans hard into its somberness, and if leaked Sony emails from last year's cyberhack suggested studio skittishness at the possibility of a showdown with the National Football League, that hasn't come to pass onscreen. The movie piles on its damning evidence: slurry linebackers, innocent intramural-playing kids in harm's way and even Luke Wilson as the sport's dead-eyed commissioner—you can't help but laugh at the stunt casting.

Naturally, Omalu's news goes over like a lead blimp in a beaten-down town where the sport is practically a religion: The chief coroner (Albert Brooks) does what he can to protect his alarmed 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.

Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf

By: Joshua Rothkopf


Release details

Rated: PG-13
Release date: Friday December 25 2015
Duration: 123 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Peter Landesman
Screenwriter: Peter Landesman
Cast: Will Smith
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Alec Baldwin

Average User Rating

4 / 5

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 Will Smith plays a Nigerian doctor who essentially stumbles upon the effects that football can have on someone's brain.  He's working in Pittsburgh and a Pittsburgh Steeler veteran commits suicide while living in the back of a truck.  This prompts the doctor to investigate while someone in their 50's would have such brain issues at such a relatively young age.  Once the NFL hears about his discoveries, they quickly try to squash his research and anyone around him.  Eventually, more NFL veterans begin dying of obscure reasons and the NFL is forced to take action.