As a huge football fan, a huge Steelers fan, a huge Will Smith fan, a resident of Pittsburgh, and a student of brain diseases, I could not wait for this movie to come out! I went the first weekend it opened in theaters, bought it when the DVD came out, and have recommended it to countless people digitally. Needless to say, I have seen it several times.
The subject matter is tricky, to be sure. The idea that America's hottest sport can and does contribute to mental incapacities is a tough pill to swallow. The way the NFL is portrayed to have handled the issue lacks compassion and seems to affirm what we all already know - money talks. But do we bare any responsibility in that as fans? As parents of players? As coaches or sports medicine staff? Ultimately, the point is less threatening than it first appears.
Once the discoveries are made, the only thing Dr. Bennet Omalu wanted was for players to be made aware of the risk they take in playing the game with respect to this specific brain issue - CTE. He was not trying to kill the game of football or stick it to the NFL. His expertise in his field led him to make a connection that no one had made before, and it explained a lot of behaviors that grieving family members could not reconcile from their loved ones. It gave these survivors a modicum of peace, and he only wanted to warn future players and loved ones what the possibilities could be. What anyone does with that knowledge is up to them, but don't kill the messenger. (Or intimidate his family.)
The acting was phenomenal. I completely forgot that Will Smith was Will Smith while watching him embody Dr. Omalu. The accent, the lack of showmanship, the humility of an immigrant trying to perfect his craft while wading through American culture and society - it was all compelling and well done. Alec Baldwin was on-point, as were the actors who played Mike Webster and Ceril Wecht. The tragic stories of the players' struggles with the disease, not knowing what the heck was wrong with them, but knowing that something was, were played out tastefully and respectfully, but still with all of the disbelief and shock that we felt when we heard of their real life demises on the local news reports when they happened. The scene depicting the last moments of Justin Strzelczyk's life was especially gripping and heart-wrenching, and I wept for him, his wife, and his kids.
CTE is not without its controversy and nay-sayers, but this movie leaves little doubt of its scientific validity. It is sad to watch, yes, but important to know about. And not just for the world of football. Other sports, the military, law enforcement, etc., can all stand to take in a viewing of this film just to learn.
There are some light moments too! Will Smith acting like he can't dance is laughable if you know anything about him, Dr. Omalu's sincere ineptitude at dating is sweet, and the opening courtroom scene endears us to him right away. And of course, Ceril Wecht has some political zingers...
If you are a Yinzer (if you don't know what that means, you're not one), you will enjoy the video clips of the Steelers, the shots of the city and neighboring suburbs, and one particular scene in The Lamont looking out over The Point from Mt. Washington.
But whoever you are, be sure you see this movie. Your life, or that of someone you love, could actually depend on it.