Concussion review: often drab and occasionally useless true-life drama

Brain-damage whistleblower Will Smith comes across as a naive, holy fool, while the overall vibe is less The Insider and more Quincy ME

Concussion
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Director: Peter Landesman
Cert: 12A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Will Smith, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Arliss Howard, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, David Morse
Running Time: 2 hrs 2 mins

This occasionally useless – but more often drab – true-life story has got a notion that it's playing in the same league as Michael Mann's The Insider. Whereas that film tackled Big Tobacco's unwillingness to admit the lethality of its product, Peter Landesman's movie addresses the NFL's discomfort at the unavoidable intelligence that playing American football causes brain damage.

The whistleblower gets rude phone calls in the middle of the night. His associates run into mysterious legal difficulties. If the film hadn’t been written in crayon and edited in oven gloves then it might have passed the time pleasantly.

We wish the always likable Will Smith no ill, but Concussion's biggest problems relate to its protagonist. Smith plays Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian- American pathologist who, when examining Mike Webster, a former player, detected perplexing indications of brain damage.

It seems that Omalu was Pennsylvania’s own Quincy ME and, while others urged him to let it slide, he pursued further investigations into what came to be known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

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There is a creepy double- standard going here. Throughout the film, Omalu is demeaned by those who refuse to take seriously his considerable African qualifications. Yet the script is equally patronising about him. He comes across as a naive, holy fool who can’t believe that corporate titans would be so cynical as to deflect dangerous truths.

Things get worse still when he encounters Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), a younger African who ends up sharing his house. Mbatha-Raw, one of the era’s most gifted young actors, ultimately finds herself saddled with the sort of insulting “wife” part that went out of fashion during the Nixon administration.

To be fair, told in fits and starts, the film does convey a fair bit of information, but it never clarifies what needs to be done about the continuing danger. Not The Insider.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist