Tuesday, December 29, 2015


          Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. The brain disease that has crippled and killed far too many football players now has a name, thanks to Dr. Bennet Omalu. This new drama is based on the true story of Dr. Omalu's discovery and struggle to convince the National Football League to acknowledge that condition was real.

           What elevates this film from a Lifetime "movie of the week" is the incredible performance of Will Smith as Dr. Omalu and the taut script from writer/director Peter Landesman. Mr. Smith dominates the film like a Pro Bowl quarterback. His acting is impeccable, whether he is going face to face with The NFL or quietly and subtly falling in love with Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays his tenant and eventual wife, Prema.

           CTE can only be detected after death and as a coroner working in Pittsburgh, Dr. Omalu finds himself performing the autopsy on Mike Webster (an almost unrecognizable David Morse), a beloved former Pittsburgh Steeler, that leads him to his discovery. The film plays like a mystery thriller, with Dr. Omalu first discovering the disease and then proving to the NFL that it's killing former players. 

            Supporting him from the start is his boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht, played very convincingly by Albert Brooks (who continues to shine in dramatic roles) and later, Alec Baldwin as Dr. Julien Bailes. The film also features Mike O'Malley, Stephen Moyer, Eddie Marstan, Arliss Howard, Luke Wilson, and Adawale  Akinnuoye-Agbaje as various doctors and members of the NFL. Each has small but significant roles to play in Dr. Omalu's story.

           Men who play the violent sport of football know they risk injury on every play but the long lasting effects of repetitive head trauma is not so simple a diagnosis. Concussion protocols early on have been completely rewritten since CTE has been brought to light.

           Balancing a story of medical discovery against an emotional journey of a pragmatic immigrant's struggle to better understand the country he has come to love, "Concussion" scores a touchdown on multiple levels. 

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