First Hit: Granted, the NFL did not know what was happening at first, but when they learned and refused to do something about it by letting their greed for money persevere, I wasn’t shocked.
Fact: Multiple hits on the head, like what happens on a football field, can cause CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a neurodegenerative disease. This brain damage has directly led to the deaths of many football players and more will needlessly die because of this.
This film tells the story through the eyes of an immigrant who came from Nigeria because he believed that America was the greatest of all countries. Bennet Omalu M.D. (Will Smith) came to the US with more doctorate and master’s degrees than probably any two or three of the most educated people you may know.
Despite being brilliant, people tried to denounce his discovery of CTE because he wasn’t born in this country, was black, and didn’t watch football.
The script was very strong from the get go and when it has him explaining why human brains are more susceptible to this type of injury than a woodpecker or a bighorn sheep you know that he's been careful and pragmatic in his work.
At first he believed that he was helping the NFL when he shared his research with them, but all they saw was economic ruin if the story got out.
The film uses the story of Mike Webster (AKA “Iron Mike”) an NFL center who was considered one of the greatest centers of all time. His untimely death at age 50 from apparent suicide was questioned by Omalu because, nothing in his body said he should have this sort of ending.
What Omalu discovered through detailed unprecedented research was that repetitive head hitting caused CTE. The result gave a reason as to why Webster was hallucinating and not be able to take care of himself. He lost his home, family, and lived in a pickup truck for years before dying.
Supporting Dr. Omalu on this path was his boss Dr. Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), former NFL physician Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) and Dr. Steven DeKosky. Together they wrote a paper for a scientific journal that when published scared the hell out of the NFL. The film also balances his fight to get the NFL to acknowledge his findings, with his meeting and falling in love with his wife, Prema Mutiso (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). She was amazing in her support of his work.
The film effectively used, hard to watch, scenes of football players hitting each other helmet to helmet and their heads hitting the ground after being tackled. The pacing of the film is perfect and there isn’t a minute wasted on fluff.
Smith was sublime and perfect in this role. He embodied a man who only wanted the truth to be told and would do anything to have it be heard. Brooks was amazing as Omalu’s boss. One got the sense that he admired Omalu as a man and a fellow physician. He wanted to be there to support him because he knew Omalu’s brilliance would reveal the truth. Baldwin was very strong as the former NFL physician who knew that Omalu’s science was correct and was willing to go against his old bosses and friends for the truth to be unveiled. David Morse as Mike Webster was scary great. He held the audience and his fellow actors with the tension he created in this role. Mbatha-Raw was wonderful in her supportive role as Omalu's wife. She provided a grounded sense throughout the film. Peter Landesman wrote and directed this film. His interpretation of the story and use of the actors make this a film to consider at awards time.
Overall: This film has a lot to say to anyone who lets their sons play football: Do you want to risk the possibility of brain damages?