December 17, 2015 at 05:41 PM EST

Every good David-and-Goliath story hinges on the faith and grit of the Little Guy—even when the cause he’s fighting for is taken up on behalf of human giants who are famously well paid to smash into each other every Sunday for sport.

Concussion’s tenacious real-life David (portrayed with fierce commitment by Will Smith) is Dr. Bennet Omalu: A gifted Nigerian-born pathologist toiling in a Pittsburgh morgue circa 2002, he finds irregularities in the autopsy of a beloved Steelers star that suggest a medical explanation for the oddly high number of NFL players felled young by drugs, depression, and suicide. His discovery—a disease he dubs chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE—seems to tie directly to the repetitive brain injuries incurred in football, which is not welcome news to the multibillion-dollar industry behind it. (“You’re going to war,” his boss warns, “with a corporation that owns a day of the week.”) Director Peter Landesman, who also helmed last year’s political thriller Kill the Messenger, doesn’t color much outside the lines of conventional drama. But his straightforward telling actually serves the strong cast and taut script—and a story that would be deemed too outrageous to believe if it wasn’t true. B+

2015 movie
121 minutes
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