‘Concussion’ is intriguing, but so what?

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I had a strong interest in seeing “Concussion.” Not only am I a huge fan of NFL football, but one of my favorite players ever, Junior Seau of the San Diego Chargers, committed suicide three years ago at age 43 after suffering from CTE, a chronic brain injury caused by multiple head collisions. I went into “Concussion” hoping to learn more about CTE and the NFL’s attempts to cover up this ailment. Did I get what I wanted? Yes and no.

concussion1“Concussion” is based on the true story of Dr. Bennett Omalu, the man who discovers CTE and its link to football players who suffer repeated trauma to the head. Will Smith gives one of the best performances of his career in the lead role. Normally charismatic and showy, Smith wisely tones down his natural energy to play the conscientious doctor. He is supported by an excellent cast including Albert Brooks as his supervisor who supports yet cautions his findings. Alec Baldwin is a former NFL team doctor who wants to help Omalu present his case to the NFL, and David Morse plays real-life Hall of Famer Mike Webster, whose autopsy leads to the discovery of CTE. Even comedian Mike O’Malley does a great job as a colleague who doesn’t approve of Omalu’s methods.

The story is intriguing, especially in a riveting first half as we watch Omalu methodically and passionately analyze lab data (that he pays for out of his own pocket) to discover CTE. But it loses momentum in the second half when its focus shifts to convincing the NFL to act on Omalu’s discovery. Here the film concentrates too much on the man rather than the story. As interesting as Omalu is, he is nowhere near as compelling as the NFL’s cover-up of players dying as a result of CTE. We’re introduced to his love interest and allusions to threats from the NFL, but these seem unnecessary and take focus away from the main topic.

concussion2The problem with a film like this is that without a true resolution to the real-life issue, there is little choice but to focus on the man brave enough to raise questions. As noted in the closing, the NFL has never taken responsibility for its players suffering from CTE and has settled with those who filed suit against them. Basically, the NFL is too big to take down.

So the question is, did “Concussion” need to be made in the first place? As a form of entertainment, it does an adequate job of creating an interesting story and executing it. But with no major movement on the issue, I left the theater with a feeling of, “So what?”