Saturday, January 2, 2016

Concussion [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (G. Kenny) review
AVClub (J. Hassenger) review  

Concussion [2015] (screenplay and directed by Peter Landesman by based on the GQ article "Game Brain" [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] by Jeanne Marie Laskas [wikip] [GR] [] [WCat] [Amzn] [IMDb]) tells the story of Nigerian-born Dr. Bennet Omalu (played with Oscar Nomination worthy sobriety in the film by Will Smith) who while working as a coroner for the Allegheny County, PA Medical Examiner's office performed autopsies on several former National Football League Players including Pittsburgh Steelers greats Mike Webster (played in the film by David Morse) and Justin_Strzelczyk (played in the film by Matthew Willig) who "died young" often by suicide in the years following their retirement from the NFL and discovered that they were suffering from early onset dementia, which he came to believe was the result of Chronic Traumatic Encelopathy (CTE), caused by "repetitive brain trauma" caused by concussions, and subconcussive hits to the head during the course of their decades long (from childhood, into their 30s) football careers.

Needless to say, Dr. Omalu's findings, which he published though the University of Pittsburgh in the medical journal Neurosurgery, 2005 July; 57(1):128-34, produced a good deal of blowback, as watching football is a beloved American pasttime, and he was finding this condition in retired, though still quite young (in their late 30s-40s) athletes in Pittsburgh (!) where Football has arguably been all-but a religion. 

His boss, then Allegheny County Medical Examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht (played in the film by Albert Brooks) though portrayed as supportive of Dr. Omalu throughout, noted to the puzzled-by-the-reaction Nigerian immigrant that: "You've found yourself taking on a national institution that owns a day of the week, the same day that the Church used to own, but now it [the NFL] does."   Still, as Dr. Omalu (presented as a practicing Catholic, incidentally) noted: "The truth is the truth," and while "Football Management" was certainly "running scared," preferring to just deny or at least minimize everything, Dr. Omalu was shown as getting increasing support from the players families, the players themselves, and even some of their trainers.  Notably former Pittsburgh Steelers' sports doctor / trainer Dr. Julian Bailes (played by Alec Baldwin) who had worked with the former players while they played for the Steelers is shown to take Dr. Omalu's side.

It all makes for a quite sobering film, and just as in the case of the story behind Spotlight [2015], which was largely about how it took a new editor, Jewish, from Miami, to expose the cover-up of pedophilia among Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, the current film also reminds Viewers of the value of "the Outsider," who can perhaps see more clearly (and act more courageously) than those closer to the situation / problem.

Again, a quite excellent and sobering story and one that one hopes that the NFL will be able to effectively deal with.  American Football is a beautiful game, but it should not have to kill its stars / heroes.

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