by Tony Medley
Runtime 120 minutes.
OK for children.
Maybe this started out with good intentions. But in the end, this is a
movie that avoids the serious problem of the outrageous attitude of the
NFL towards concussions. The reason for this is explained later in this
I thought it was going to be an indictment of the NFL for its callous
attitude towards injuries, in general, and concussions, in particular,
and how it fought tooth and nail to avoid liability for all the players
who suffered, and continue to suffer, from brain damage.
Instead it’s mostly a biopic about Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) with a
shout out to his wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Although the film
doesn’t show it (this is secular Hollywood, after all), Omalu is a
devout practicing Catholic. It shows him to be a good man who fell into
the study of brain injuries in the NFL after performing an autopsy on
former Pittsburgh Steeler player Mike Webster (David Morse). He wrote a
paper that named the disease he discovered as a result of the Webster
autopsy CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). But it takes 30 minutes
to get to the point where he met Webster’s cadaver, which tells you
something about the snail-like pace of this film.
While the film touches (barely) on the problems Dr. Omalu had with the
uncooperative and uncaring NFL, led by Commissioners Paul Tagliabue (Dan
Ziskie) and Roger Goodell (Luke Wilson), it skims on the brain-crushing
injuries caused in every football game played. And it seems to devote
more time to the opposition he had from colleagues, especially Daniel
Sullivan (Mike O’Malley) who seems really stoked about the fact that Dr.
Omalu takes his cadavers so seriously, than his troubles with the NFL.
More than 90% of the film is the story of Dr. Omalu. The film was
written and directed by Peter Landesman, a director with meager
experience, and who apparently knows virtually nothing about pace and
action. This is so slow it seems much longer than its two hours, which
is astonishing in itself given that action director Ridley Scott (Black
Hawk Down) is a producer. I don’t know how Scott could have sat
still without demanding better pace (or at least some pace; this thing
While Smith does a good job affecting a Nigerian accent and Dr. Omalu’s
soft, appealing personality, acting honors go to Albert Brooks who plays
Omalu’s boss, Dr. Cyril Wecht. Brooks brings a unique touch to the film.
God knows how one could get through it without him in the cast.
The NFL needn’t worry much about this film not only because it takes
pains not to lay a glove on them (see below), but because it is so
Maybe the reason the film is so uninvolving is explained by an item in
The New York Times which reported that both the script and the
marketing were changed to avoid clashes with the NFL. It said that the
Sony Pictures email hacking earlier in the year revealed several emails
that said some “unflattering moments for the NFL” were deleted or
changed and another indicated that a Sony lawyer took “most of the bite”
out of the movie “for legal reasons with the NFL.”
The result is a slow, boring movie whose promotional efforts lead one to
believe that it’s all about how a rotten organization (the NFL) refuses
to accept its responsibility to its players. But it isn’t. It’s about a
medical doctor who discovered the disease.
At one point in the movie, Dr. Omalu says, “God did not make us to play
football.” Maybe someday someone not susceptible to pressure from the
NFL will further that cause by having the courage to make a film on a
subject that needs much more exposure, to wit, how the NFL has fought
tooth and nail against accepting responsibility for the CTE caused by
its players playing football. That’s the big story that needs to be told
in detail, not the story of the doctor who discovered it.
The sad thing is that if they had possessed the courage to take on the
NFL they could have told both stories.