Will Smith delivers a superb performance as real-life forensic neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, who identified the brain disorder called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in pro-football players, inadvertently alienating the National Football League. In 2002, a gentle, soft-spoken Nigerian immigrant with multiple medical degrees, Dr. Omalu detects evidence of damage related to trauma in the brain of former Pittsburgh Steeler “Iron Mike” Webster (David Morse), who died at the age of 50. Read on…
Soon afterwards, he finds similar signs in the brains of other deceased players who had suffered from mood swings, violent outbursts and diminished comprehension.
Tenacious Dr. Omalu believes that pro football players are routinely concussed hundreds of times over the course of a career – but it’s a judgment which only can be confirmed posthumously.
When he and his colleague, Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), publish their research in a 2005 medical journal, NFL officials refute their dangerous discovery, although former team doctor Julian Bailes (Alex Baldwin) reluctantly agrees.
Idealistic Dr. Omalu is warned: “You’re going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week.”
After being threatened, harassed and pursued, he and his Kenya-born wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are even threatened with deportation.
Although NFL player Dave Duerson (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) testifies before Congress that there’s no evidence of a connection between repetitive head trauma and brain injury, after he commits suicide in 2011, his brain reveals the same injury. (A recent autopsy on Hall of Fame NFL running back Frank Gifford revealed that he, too, had CTE.)
“I am not anti-football, anti-NFL,” Dr. Omalu says, “I stand by the truth.”
Significantly, when Sony Pictures’ e-mails were hacked, the New York Times reported that the script and marketing campaign were changed to avoid legal fallout with the NFL. Whether that’s true remains conjecture but the result is surprisingly ineffective, given the topic and Smith’s understated portrayal.
Inspired by Jeanne Marie Laskas’ GQ article, “Game Brain,” writer/director Peter Landesman created a one-note, workmanlike, ploddingly-paced procedural with a syrupy score by James Newton Howard.
So, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Concussion” is a solemn 6, straight-forward and conventional.