The upcoming drama, “Concussion,” which stars Will Smith and looks at the history of head injuries in the National Football League (NFL), recently screened for the first time at the AFI Fest.
Smith portrays Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who noticed unusual physical attributes when examining former Steelers player Mike Webster. Omalu begins to investigate what else may have happened to other football players and the NFL soon reacts to his findings. (The league has not yet commented on the film.)
Football’s place in American culture means the topic of head injuries has proved divisive and Smith, a football fan, said he was initially reluctant to take on the role. “I didn't want [the situation] to be the reality, and, at a minimum, I didn't want it to be me who had to say it,” the actor said.
But Smith said he now wants to get the word out there. His son played football in high school.
“I watched my son play football for four years and I didn't know," he said. "I didn't know. That became our quest: to deliver the truth. People have to know.”
Peter Landesman, who directed the film that also stars Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, and Albert Brooks, reiterated the intent to make people aware of their message.
“[The movie] is exposing a very uncomfortable, and to the NFL, a very dangerous truth,” he said.
So now the question is, will people go see the movie, which will be released on Dec. 25?
It remains to be seen whether curiosity over the controversy will win out for moviegoers over what are some fairly critical early reviews. While others will be published closer to the release date of “Concussion” and could be more positive, the film is not doing well in early notices. That could undercut the effect those behind the movie are hoping it will have and cause audiences to avoid the film.
Hollywood Reporter writer Stephen Farber called “Concussion” “imperfect, [but] it has unmistakable urgency… thoroughly engrossing and entertaining… Smith transforms himself impressively… competent but not inspired.”
But Andrew Barker of Variety found it to have “a clichéd, confused script… the film’s attempt to marry an earnest public-health expose with a corporate-malfeasance thriller and a sweet immigrant love story never comes together in a satisfying way… the repeated willingness shown by so many Americans to shoot the messengers bringing bad news about cherished institutions presents a potent subtext… Yet ‘Concussion’ never quite trusts its audience enough to dive down any interesting rabbit holes.”
TheWrap writer Inkoo Kang was even less impressed, calling the film “timely but dreary and dramatically inept… grimly ponderous… Smith delivers a fine performance [but] pretty much everything else in ‘Concussion’ feels requisite… Too bad ‘Concussion’ has so little to add to the discussion.”