Concussion isn't much of a movie, but it's a fascinating bellwether for where the National Football League currently stands on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease associated with many of its former players. As it happens, the human brain isn't supposed to whip against the skull like a crash-test dummy. Blows to the head can have devastating long-term effects.
Much like The Insider, Peter Landesman's film uses a real-life whistleblower to expose the evils of a multi-billion-dollar institution. Opening in 2002, Concussion follows Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), a Nigerian forensic pathologist who conducts autopsies in a Pittsburgh coroner's office. The 50-year-old body of Mike Webster (David Morse), a former Hall-of-Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reveals disturbing evidence of what Omalu would later identify as CTE.
Landesman, a former journalist, dutifully follows the breadcrumbs as Omalu accumulates findings from more dead athletes, gains a powerful ally in former Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and comes under intense scrutiny from the league, the media and local sports crazies. Just getting all the facts straight is a lot for one movie to handle, to say nothing of offering a thorough look at the metastasizing implications for the culture and business of America's game. The NFL will likely tar the film with the relentlessness of Scientology's attack on Going Clear.
A title as blunt as Concussion would seem to function as a narrative North Star, but scenes of Omalu's courtship with his wife Prema (a squandered Gugu Mbatha-Raw) consistently take the movie off-topic. Is this a film about brain trauma or a Will Smith vehicle?