Review: ‘Concussion’ tackles danger of playing football

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Just in time for the NFL playoffs, here comes “Concussion,” a movie that will hopefully give many serious pause about our nation’s most popular sport.

Based on a true story, Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born, hyper-motivated coroner working in Pittsburgh. He treats the dead bodies he examines as his patients, carefully trying to determine the cause of their deaths.

One day he’s assigned the body of a local legend, a former Pittsburgh Steeler and NFL hall-of-famer named Mike Webster (David Morse), a man who went from the pinnacles of success to living in a broken-down truck. Omalu notices something inconsistent with Webster’s brain and, against the protests of a fellow coroner and Steeler fan (Mike O’Malley), decides to run some sophisticated tests, paying for them with his own money.

With the backing of his no-nonsense boss (Albert Brooks), Omalu determines that Webster suffered a litany of concussions over his career, which eventually led to his erratic, irrational behavior. Some animals skulls come equipped with insulation to protect against hard hits; human skulls have no such insulation. Omalu comes to discover that a great many football players have had similar problems, and other inexplicable deaths have occurred.

Thus begins Omalu’s fight, first to be taken seriously by the scientific community (not so hard), then by the NFL (nearly impossible). Helping him along the way is a remorseful former team doctor for the Steelers (Alec Baldwin), and the widows of other NFL players, whose husband’s brains Omalu examines, finding they line up right with Webster’s.

“Concussion” spends too much time on Omalu’s relationship with his future wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and could have made its point more quickly. But that sobering point is made, even though the film takes care to relish the beauty of football, as well. Beautiful or not, we’re all cheering for something that can kill people.



Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language

Running time: 123 minutes