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24 Dec 2015

Misguided Focus: 'Concussion' Errs By Focusing on a Doctor, Not on Dying NFL Players

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Alec Baldwin and Will Smith in Concussion. Alec Baldwin and Will Smith in Concussion.

Concussion is an odd, misguided movie.

Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a pathologist studying the cadavers of former football players who are dying in mysterious ways. His studies eventually lead to the discovery of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a brain disease resulting from repeated concussive hits to the head.

Director Peter Landesman’s film makes the mistake of focusing on Smith’s character, and pushing the stories of the suffering football players into the background. Does anybody really care about Omalu’s love life when football players are killing themselves after retirement? The story of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster (played movingly by David Morse) only gets a few minutes of screen time, while Omalu’s television habits and dancing prowess get more than one scene.

The film goes for a strange emotional payoff regarding Omalu’s triumphant discovery rather than really focusing on the treacherous cover-ups by the NFL when it came to CTE. Again, a movie that pushes the stories and fates of suffering NFL players into the background in favor of giving a big Hollywood star a beefed up role feels mighty self-indulgent.

This could’ve been the incisive, important film the subject needs, rather than a melodramatic excuse for Will Smith to try out a new accent. 

Concussion opens Friday, Dec. 25, at theaters across the valley.

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