Will Smith’s saintly doc­tor seems too good to be true

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - GO SEE - By John Bei­fuss

Saint Will Smith (see also: “The Pur­suit of Hap­py­ness ,” “Seven Pounds”) re­turns to suf­fer sto­ically, for­give those who know not what they do and oth­er­wise en­no­ble the world with his sen­si­tiv­ity and acu­ity in “Con­cus­sion,” a drama in­spired by the real-life re­search of Dr. Ben­nett Omalu, the foren­sic pathol­o­gist who proved a link be­tween foot­ball and trau­matic brain dis­ease.

Omalu’s ad­mirable sci­en­tific cu­rios­ity and dogged re­sis­tance to the hugely prof­itable NFL, which worked to dis­credit his the­o­ries, might make for an in­ter­est­ing movie some day, but “Con­cus­sion” demon­strates con­fused pri­or­i­ties. The movie is as ea­ger to ex­alt Omalu/smith as to ex­pose the hypocrisy of the league and the dan­gers of its sport.

“I think you’re go­ing to be an Amer­i­can hero,” says Omalu’s boss (Al­bert Brooks, con­tin­u­ing his late-ca­reer run as one of moviedom’s most wel­come char­ac­ter ac­tors). “You ex­em­plify ev­ery­thing it means to be an Amer­i­can,” a fed­eral of­fi­cial tells Omalu. (The doc­tor was born in Nige­ria, so he’s also an ideal im­mi­grant.) “I feel God in you,” a priest com­ments.

In­deed: Be­cause the “sta­tis­ti­cal prob­a­bil­ity” of this African land­ing in Pitts­burgh to slice up the brains of Steel­ers is re­mote, the movie sug­gests the Almighty may have nudged Omalu to come to Amer­ica to un­cover the scourge of CTE (chronic trau­matic en­cephalopa­thy). “God did not in­tend for us to play foot­ball,” Omalu warns, and you may won­der if this con­clu­sion was found in his slides or de­liv­ered by heav­enly emis­sary. (Is this Dr. Ben­nett Omalu or Dr. Ben Car­son?) Per­haps the NFL was over­due for a reck­on­ing: Af­ter all, as the movie re­minds us, the day of the week that pro­fes­sional foot­ball “owns” is “the same day the church used to own.”

Does Omalu have a fault? Of course: His fault is that he’s too per­fect. He needs to be “a lit­tle less of an artist,” he’s told. See, Omalu is a kind of corpse whis­perer who ap­proaches each autopsy in a spirit of col­lab­o­ra­tion. “The dead are my pa­tients,” Omalu ex­plains, the twin­kle in Smith’s eye match­ing his warm Nige­rian ac­cent. “I have to re­spect them.”

Writ­ten and di­rected by for­mer in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Peter Lan­des­man, work­ing from a GQ ar­ti­cle by Jeanne Marie Laskas, the at­trac­tively mounted if not quite em­balmed “Con­cus­sion” is most lively when it leaves the lab to fo­cus on the messy lives of the brain-in­jured play­ers whose pre­ma­ture de­range­ment in­spired Omalu’s cru­sade. Th­ese in­clude a Hulked-up David Morse as “Iron Mike” Web­ster, a glue-huff­ing loose can­non, and EX-NFL tackle Matt Wil­lig as ill-fated line­man Justin Strzel­czyk. Also making an im­pres­sion is Alec Bald­win as a guilt-rid­den for­mer team doc­tor who of­fers the con­flicted fan’s per­spec­tive: Foot­ball is “vi­o­lent” and “mean­ing­less,” he says, but


Will Smith plays Dr. Ben­net Omalu, the foren­sic pathol­o­gist who proved a link be­tween foot­ball and trau­matic brain in­jury in “Con­cus­sion.”

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