The fact that “Concussion” exists at all is astounding. The NFL, the megalithic organization in charge of America’s game, is not exactly an easy target, and writer-director Peter Landesman goes right at their apparent cover-up of the concussion crisis at the heart of professional football.
Sure, there was The New York Times story indicating ways Sony may have sought to mollify the league by altering the script about Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) discovering the degenerative disease CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in ex-NFL player Mike Webster (David Morse) and working against serious odds to share his knowledge with the public. The movie takes great pains to make it clear that it’s about a public health catastrophe, not the sport itself. Monologues repeatedly touch on the beauty of the sport; interspersed with file footage of bone crunching hits are touchdowns and other more transcendent moments.
But it fundamentally represents a radical case of whistle-blowing, a major film from one giant entertainment corporation taking direct aim at the failures of another.
That makes the movie consistently fascinating, even when the quality of the filmmaking itself never quite lives up to the power of the subject.
Landesman’s script is too heavy on the speechifying, and the attempts to translate the drama out of the laboratories and board rooms and into the homes of the men suffering from CTE are consistently overwrought, wildly at odds with the understated realism inherent in the depiction of Omalu and Smith’s terrific performance. Repeated soaring shots over the Allegheny River and Heinz Field represent halfhearted attempts to enliven things.
“Concussion” is shaped as a character study as much as it is an issue piece. Thus, it could have gone further in its depiction of the devastation and the sinister ways Omalu was silenced. It’s a rare movie that actually deserves to be called important, though, and that’s worthy of recognition.