In writer-director Peter Landesman’s “Concussion,” Will Smith gives an intelligent, measured performance as Dr. Bennett Omalu, the real-life, Nigerian-born doctor who, while working in Pittsburgh, researched brain trauma in football players and, facing great resistance and personal sacrifice, pressured the NFL to recognize the burgeoning health crisis.
Since the NFL, its officials and doctors, and even players and fans were slow to acknowledge the problem, and still are, the movie has an immediacy. But except for this ripped-from-the-headlines topicality, and Smith’s quiet, steady work, the film is rather flat. To Landesman’s credit, and Smith’s, Omalu has a stubbornness and a sense of entitlement that occasionally make him appear less than saintly. But sanctification still imbues the atmosphere. This man, we are maneuvered to believe, is a hero.
Fair enough, but what does the film have to say about the national obsession with violent sports? Landesman doesn’t go beyond the obvious: We should be aware of the risks. If “Concussion” really stuck its neck out, it would have been the better for it. The film comes on as hard-hitting, but it’s weighted down with protective gear. Grade: C+ (Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some disturbing images, and language.)