Directed By: Peter Landesman

Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse, and Albert Brooks

"The NFL owns a day of the week.  The same day the Church used to own.  Now it's theirs."
-Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks)

It's safe to say that football has supplanted baseball as America's favorite pastime.  Garnering 114.5 million viewers earlier this year, Super Bowl XLIX was an unparalleled phenomenon likes its predecessors before it.  It's the most popular event of the year by far and symbolizes the sport's utter dominance in the United States.  The quote above from Dr. Cyril Wecht in Will Smith's latest dramatic vehicle Concussion says it all.  With all this in mind, the NFL isn't exactly a “nonprofit” with which anyone wants to pick a fight, but that's exactly what courageous Nigerian-American neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu did when he discovered the disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy — also known as CTE — that afflicts many of the warriors of the game.  For this, I applaud Omalu, and I'm sure that's exactly what Smith and his director Peter Landesman were looking to do with Concussion.

Dr. Bennet Omalu (Smith) has been getting acclimated to life in the United States.  Working in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for Dr. Cyril Wecht (Brooks) as a forensic pathologist at the coroner's office, he begins making a name for himself as a rather unique coroner — one who pops on some old school R&B jams and talks to the cadavers he’s cutting open.  He only does so to respect the dead and treat their bodies with dignity.  Using finer tools than the blunt instruments the office provides, he quickly and frequently draws the ire of his colleague Daniel Sullivan (Mike O'Malley).  Cyril thinks the good doctor just needs a woman in his life to become more personable with his colleague.  As fate would have it, Bennet is asked by his local church to do them a favor and help a new member out who also just arrived in the United States from West Africa — a beautiful young woman by the name of Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw).  Prema moves in with Bennet, and sparks begin to fly.

Things pick up at the morgue when former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster (David Morse) passes away prematurely at the age of 50, and the case just so happens to land on Bennet Omalu's lap.  Though Webster ultimately went into cardiac arrest, there were reports of strange behavior by the famous football center prior to his passing.  Webster also suffers from brain damage not typical of someone his age.  With this in mind, Bennet doesn't believe that he knows the whole story and wants to treat his patient right.  He orders a series of tests on Webster's remains to get the full picture and starts to learn about all of the concussive head trauma that football players endure over the course of their lives.  Seeing this as something more, he begins to research what plagued Webster and possibly other players in much more detail.  This puts him on the path to discovering CTE and angering the NFL, a powerful body with no interest in telling the truth.

Emotion is the weapon of choice in Concussion for director Peter Landesman and his star Will Smith.  While the film is certainly entertaining and illuminating when it comes to football and the damage it’s doing to our fellow citizens in the name of profit, any real thought will cause your perception of the film to fall apart.  Emotion can’t carry everything in a production, regardless of the topic.  The problem plaguing Concussion is that there is no semblance of depth.  More pointedly, it's an extremely straightforward film with many aspects of the plot underdeveloped and seemingly random.  There's also no dimensionality or color to any of the characters despite the wealth of talent on hand here.  The only exception may be our star Will Smith, and that’s a strong maybe.  Lastly, the film could use a little more polish.  To stand out at the crowded box office, Landesman needs to add a bit more of his style and his imprint on the movie.  All in all, Concussion is an entertaining but underwhelming cinematic experience, especially considering the awards love it's been getting.

The performances in the film are solid, but I would expect more given the caliber of actors Landesman has assembled here for Concussion.  For his part as the gutsy Bennet Omalu, Will Smith is in good form with one truly heartfelt performance.  He gives us an introvert willing to make bold moves and stand for what's right.  He's the unshakable moral compass of the film and the little guy fighting the system.  With the failure of After Earth far enough in the rearview mirror and the likely commercial success of Suicide Squad on the horizon, Smith continues rebuilding his brand at the box office by exploring a variety of roles as evidenced here.  That being said, I'm happy to report that Smith finds his groove in this role as the determined doctor working to simply tell the truth to the world and all those considering putting their bodies in jeopardy for the sake of football.

Although Smith does well in Concussion, his supporting cast languishes because they lack meaty characters into which they can dig.  For her part as Prema Mutiso, for instance, the lovely Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings a grace and warmth to the film but is completely confined to this one-dimensional character.  Beyond smiling and providing moral support for Bennet, her most notable line is a cute little retort that she was a registered nurse back home.  For their parts as Cyril Wecht and Julian Bailes, veterans Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin are terribly underutilized.  These heavy hitters' talents go completely to waste with Landesman.  Finally, David Morse, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Richard T. Jones, and Matt Willig do a fine job portraying the players tragically afflicted with CTE in emotionally resonant performances.  It is worth noting, however, that Willig — a former offensive tackle and Super Bowl Champion — brings some additional authenticity to the film as someone who has seen the toll the game can take on players first hand.

gets a 0.06% rating.  It's a solidly entertaining drama.  It's just not a great movie.  Have a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc with this one.