The NFL should be afraid of the forthcoming film Concussion, due to be released this December. Very afraid. I say that having not seen the film, just the trailer. But already there is enough revealed to know that the Will Smith vehicle should be giving league commissioner Roger Goodell night sweats.
First, there is the story itself. To tell the NFL’s concussion saga, director Peter Landesman has centered the story around the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who first discovered the football-related brain injury CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) when performing an autopsy on Steelers Hall of Fame center Mike Webster, who died at the age of 50, and Dr. Omalu’s efforts to get the NFL to give a damn. Landesman also made the criminally overlooked film Kill the Messenger about journalist Gary Webb, the late San Jose Mercury News reporter who uncovered the long rumored connections between the CIA and the wholesale importing of crack cocaine into the inner city to underwrite Latin American military coups.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the most mainstream of football writers, it is clear that Landesman is not giving any damns. He said:
I gravitate towards stories of David versus Goliath, the small man versus the machine. Whether it is Bennet Omalu or Gary Webb, a reporter who discovered the cocaine trafficking with the CIA and was destroyed by the Washington Post and the CIA and others. In my writing career as a journalist, it was little man against the machine so I think I am just hard-wired for that narrative.
Then there is the casting. Will Smith has long taken roles that portray himself as an avatar of what is heroic in this world. It may be a waste of the transgressive talent shown in his 1993 debut Six Degrees of Separation, but it has made him an icon of an almost Old Hollywood righteousness. You don’t root against Will Smith. It would be like, to use another edgeless Smith performance, wanting George Foreman to triumph over Muhammad Ali. But Will Smith is just the beginning. Landesman cast Luke Wilson, an actor best known for Idiocracy and a film where Will Ferrell first showed his ass, to play Roger Goodell. This is like casting Rob Schneider to star in a Reagan biopic. You are making a statement just by the choice. Another actor whose casting implies the politics at hand is Paul Reiser, who will play Dr. Elliot Pellman, the longtime chairman of the NFL’s Mild Traumatic Brain Injury Committee. Dr. Pellman is a rheumatologist without an expertise in brain research, and is alleged to have suppressed much of the data, at the NFL’s behest, linking head injuries and the sport.