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Will Smith Gets Brainy in 'Concussion'

A real-life drama suggests football may be the most dangerous game

(Video) 'Concussion' Movie Trailer: The incredible true David vs. Goliath story of American immigrant Dr. Bennet Omalu, the brilliant forensic neuropathologist who made the first discovery of CTE.

Rating: PG-13

Run Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

Stars: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks

Director: Peter Landesman

Two things you'll never look at quite the same after you see ConcussionWill Smith and NFL football.

In this fact-based medical drama, the usually affable Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a no-nonsense Pittsburgh pathologist who discovers in the brain of a dead former pro football player evidence of damage due to decades of repeated head trauma.

Following his hunch, the determined doc begins tracking the deaths of other players — and finds grim evidence that suggests the condition, which he dubs chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is an epidemic among pro football athletes.

This is, of course, is bad news for the NFL, which has built a multibillion-dollar business on the premise of men knocking their heads together. As Omalu's boss, engagingly played by Albert Brooks, observes, "The NFL owns a whole day of the week. And that's the one that used to belong to God!"

Even worse, Omalu works for the Pittsburgh-area medical examiner's office. Face it, would you want to be the guy to try to explain to a rabid Steelers fan that the game he loves is basically a cranial demolition derby?

Smith is nothing short of amazing as Omalu, immersing himself in the African-born doctor's speech patterns and the deliberate, thoughtful manner of a medical man with the world on his shoulders. His character is nicely counterbalanced by Alec Baldwin as a fiery former NFL team doctor who's torn by guilt over his years of turning a blind eye to the effects of the brutal game that once employed him.

Concussion, Will Smith and Alec Baldwin

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Alec Baldwin and Will Smith star in 'Concussion'

The fine performances and inherent human drama of Concussion ought to be enough to propel the story for two hours, but for some reason writer-director Peter Landesman feels the need to juice things up with chintzy scenes of manufactured peril. In the middle of the night, Omalu sees a strange car parked outside his condo. The ominous music swells. Who is it? What to they want? Could it be DANGER? The car pulls away. The good doctor sighs with relief. Same deal with a mysterious car following the doctor's girlfriend (sweet Gugu Mbatha-Raw) as she drives home one night. As the orchestra thrums, she starts to sweat and grip the steering wheel ever so tightly. Then, the car is gone. Whew!

Concussion's true anxiety-causing moments arise after the film is over, for anyone watching an actual football game. It's true that with its leaping catches, dramatic runs and long, arcing passes, football may be the most beautiful of sports. But with each clatter of helmets colliding against each other, it's hard to shake the image of brain cells rupturing into a bloody galaxy of leaking blood vessels.

I'm not sure I would ever forbid a son of mine to play football. But I would definitely insist he see Concussion before strapping on those pads.

Bill Newcott is a writer, editor and movie critic for AARP Media.