ConcussionIt’s The Head That Matters
Stars: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks, Paul Reiser, David Morse and Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Director/Scriptwriter: Peter Landesman from the GQ article “Game Brain” by Jeanne Marie Laskas
Cinematography: Salvatore Totino
Composer: James Newton Howard
Columbia Pictures
Rating: PG 13 with sports violence
Running Length: 123 minutes
With a title like “Concussion,” you know what this film is about. I'll say it now, David Morse steals the film in his scenes as Mike Webster, (“Iron Mike”) who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers and one year with the Kansas City Chiefs. Mike died at age 50 from dementia, which was caused by repeated sports concussions. Watching his slow descent is heart-breaking. The film begins with his story.
Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who figures out that concussions are causing early-age dementia in football players. The only way to detect this is by dissecting their brains upon death, where the damage shows. No test before could find this, though there were suspicions. Because Dr. Omalu came from another country, anything he wants to do is widely questioned, which slows the process of investigation and leads to hardship in his life with wife Gugu Mbatha-Raw (and that is a quietly effective love story.)  Smith has the accent down pat and the frustrations on not being able to do his job. The love of football and the idea of this sport actually harming people (“What? Can't you take it?”) is so widespread, it is hard to get a niche into this world. 
Along the way, Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), changes his opinion and decides to work with Omalu as the cases advance into NFL investigation, which is like trying to walk through quicksand with lead boots. The film reads something like a documentary with a timeline and the disease is now known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). As the film progresses, you see how repeated hits cause brain damage, and then---wow---this can happen in other sports, too, such as boxing (which we already knew), or soccer, baseball…..and you could just keep on going.
Watching your home football team go at it week after week, and sack-the-quarterback  the usual chant, makes it difficult to step away. As one person says, it is like a dance out there---and when all goes well, beautiful to watch, but deadly, at times, to play. Having Iron Mike’s story begin the film brings the situation to the forefront immediately and you wonder why this hasn't been covered before? You may remember the names of past athletes who died of this disease---Terry Long, Mike Webster, Andre Waters or Junior Seau.
I thought “Concussion,” which was adapted for the screen from a magazine article to be an effective way of putting the information to the public. What is being done now? Different game plays, less playing time for injured players, different style helmets are some things that help prevent injuries.
Acting is OK, though everyone seems rather stiff in their roles, except for David Morse. It almost looks as though people were acting in a documentary rather than presenting information in a relaxed, movie-way. As it stands, “Concussion” has a love story, tragic sports figures, and views of how money rules the game. How much is the brain worth, anyway?
Copyright 2015 Marie Asner