dir-scr Peter Landesman
prd Ridley Scott, Giannina Scott, David Wolthoff, Larry Shuman, Elizabeth Cantillon
with Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Albert Brooks, David Morse, Mike O'Malley, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eddie Marsan, Stephen Moyer, Luke Wilson, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser
release US 25.Dec.15, UK 12.Feb.16
15/US Columbia 2h03
Head to head: Mbatha-Raw and Smith

baldwin brooks morse
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Concussion This is the story of the man who discovered that playing American football results in serious brain damage, a fact that has been ruthlessly suppressed by authorities. So the film is timely and important. It may feel rather over-serious, but the tone is balanced by rousing filmmaking skill and punchy energy. And it provides Will Smith with another showy, engaging role.

In 2002 Pittsburgh, Nigerian doctor Bennet Omalu (Smith) is a cause-of-death expert. Through his church, he takes in Kenyan immigrant Prema (Mbatha-Raw), who shakes up his life. When former football hero Mike (Morse) dies at 50, Bennet looks into his case, discovering brain trauma directly caused by the sport. And other ex-players are also suffering similar mental breakdowns. With the support of his boss (Brooks), Bennet presents his findings, and of course is brutally vilified by the NFL. Then a local doctor (Baldwin) tells him that the league has known about this issue for decades.

A surging James Newton Howard score informs us from the start that this is an Important Movie Based on a True Story. Writer-director Landesman offers a few moments of comical or romantic relief, but keeps the tone momentous, emphasising the the epic struggle to overcome obstacles as this foreigner threatens a fundamental element of American culture. The film's pacing is stately and urgent, which makes Bennet's work seriously inspiring in the face of government harassment, death threats and worse.

With a terrific sense of physicality, Smith captures Bennet's tenacity and charm to create a compelling central character. In an underwritten role, Mbatha-Raw offers strong chemistry as the smart, sexy woman who catches his eye. And the supporting cast is beefed up by expert scene-stealers like Baldwin and Brooks. Morse is especially notable in his brief role as a shattered Hall-of-Famer, as is Akinnuoye-Agbaje as a bullheaded player-turned-politician.

Looking at human anatomy, Bennet can't help but conclude that "God did not intend for us to play football", but his facts threaten a billion-dollar industry that's far more concerned about income than safety. This is a story about the power of the truth in the face of lies and corruption. Tragically, the sport remains deadly, injuring children and the professionals who don't seem to understand that all the money in the world won't give them the last 40 years of their life back. And perhaps this film will finally help that truth sink in.

cert 12 themes, language, some grisliness 29.Dec.15

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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall