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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Concussion stars Will Smith as the real-life Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist who conducts the autopsy of a former NFL star and discovers chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), the result of repetitive head injuries from years of playing football. Omalu, offering a strong example of integrity and perseverance, goes up against the powerful NFL, which is unwilling to admit the game can be deadly. This David-vs.-Goliath story has plenty of violent football scenes that often leave players dazed or unconscious, as well as some intense moments when retired players succumb to fits of rage. There are also scenes that show people drinking and a bit of kissing and swearing (including "s--t" and one vehement "f--k").
What's the story?
In CONCUSSION, Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a caring, thorough doctor at the Pittsburgh medical examiner's office who's baffled by his latest case: local football legend Mike Webster, who had deteriorated into a semi-coherent druggie before dying for no obvious reason. Eventually Omalu realizes that Webster's brain is damaged, the result of years of hits to the head playing football -- and many, many other players are at risk of the same fate. By identifying the condition that comes to be called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Omalu goes up against the powerful NFL, which has no interest in admitting the sport is dangerous to players and does everything it can to discredit the doctor.
Is it any good?
There's much to admire about this film: the story, the man behind the story, the great care it takes to tell its story. For this alone, Concussion deserves to be seen. But there's something that also feels removed about the film, preventing it from achieving greatness. Start with Omalu himself, who's rendered graciously by Smith (including a flawless Nigerian accent) but who also comes across as inhumanly perfect, which prevents him from being multi-dimensional. The script doesn't allow him much latitude for depth, despite the inclusion of a romantic life. Ditto for Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who gamely brings to life a fairly superficially written character.
The science behind the discovery of CTE is fascinating, but the players who are destroyed by it are even more so, and they unfortunately don't get enough time on-screen. It might have worked better had the film taken more of its time telling their stories and taken fewer detours into topics like Omalu's tensions with an unsupportive, insecure colleague. Concussion is good but not great.
Talk to your kids about ...
How accurate do you think this fact-based movie is? Why might filmmakers tweak what really happened?
Can football be played safely, or is it inherently dangerous?
- In theaters: December 25, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: March 29, 2016
- Cast: Will Smith, Stephen Moyer, Gugu Mbatha-Raw
- Director: Peter Landesman
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character Strengths: Integrity, Perseverance
- Run time: 123 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including some disturbing images, and language
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