Will Smith is Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist credited with the discovery of football-related brain trauma following the mental deterioration and death of several NFL stars.

The film depicts his discovery, his clashes with the NFL, and aspects of his personal life, including Omalu’s relationship with Kenyan nurse, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks provide solid backing as members of the medical establishment, while David Morse features in a short yet powerful turn as a bruised and battered former NFL icon.

Concussion will play stronger to NFL fans, delivering constant reminders that the game has the devotion of a mainstream religion in the US, the audience for which this is clearly intended. Setting itself up as a drama about a shocking discovery and the ostensible intransigence of the NFL bosses to accept Omalu’s findings, Concussion does not reserve enough of its running time for exploring the dynamics of this issue within the NFL, nor for that matter their interactions with Omalu and other advocates of his findings. Unfortunately, the politics of the discovery frequently take a back seat to the details of Omalu’s personal life, with the film failing to sufficiently deal with the media fall-out or the NFL’s responses in detail. Luke Wilson, starring as an advocate of the NFL, is noticeably underutilised.

Skewing the story to instead depict a lone man fighting against the odds – playing out almost like a classic underdog sport story – Concussion handles its powerful themes haphazardly. Omalu’s personal experiences, while engaging, are never as involving as his brief interactions with the film’s Goliath, the NFL. Relying in no small part on Smith’s reliably first-rate performance, Concussion is a thoughtful and interesting story neglectfully executed.

Glen Falkenstein on FilmInk