×

Head Games

Parents could be making their kids wear helmets to the library by the conclusion of helmer Steve James' science-and-sports docu "Head Games," which scores solid hits on everyone from the NFL down to peewee hockey as it links contact sports, concussions and those calling for widespread reformation of the nation's athletic philosophies and priorities.

With:
With: Christopher Nowinski, Alan Schwarz, Ann McKee, Robert Cantu, Robert Stern, Keith Primeau.

Parents could be making their kids wear helmets to the library by the conclusion of helmer Steve James’ science-and-sports docu “Head Games,” which scores solid hits on everyone from the NFL down to peewee hockey as it links contact sports, concussions and those calling for widespread reformation of the nation’s athletic philosophies and priorities. The PG-13 rating is a scandal, essentially discouraging the people most in need of the film’s information from getting it, but TV exposure will be the best bet anyway, unless sports-centric outlets grow allergic to a film that undermines their very existence.

One of the more fascinating aspects of a thoroughly entertaining movie is how incomprehensible James’ proposed changes are in a country where many would list their necessities as food, shelter and “Monday Night Football.” In one disturbing scene, Christopher Nowinski (ex-Harvard footballer, ex-WWE wrestler, author of “Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis” and one of the film’s principals) is confronted by a high-school athletic director more disturbed by Nowinski’s disclosure of negative information than by the fact that so many young athletes are incurring multiple concussions, which can lead to lasting brain damage, erratic behavior, depression and, in some cases, suicide. In another scene, a pediatrician is deeply embarrassed by having a debate with herself about how many concussions are acceptable for her young, hockey-playing son, when the answer, obviously, is none.

Popular on Variety

“Head Games” is strong on statistical evidence — pro football players are 19 times more likely to develop conditions like Alzheimer’s disease — and features a good deal of visible proof in addition to multiple clips of vicious head shots. Ann McKee, professor of neurology and pathology at Boston U. (the nerve center, so to speak, of concussion research), calmly dissects the brain of an athlete who died prematurely, showing the evidence of head injuries in the tissue.

But the strongest element in “Head Games” is probably the number of voices assembled, including Nowinski, McKee and New York Times sports reporter Alan Schwarz, who has written about the staggering statistics concerning health problems suffered by NFL vets. Another interviewee, former hockey player Keith Primeau, retired from the NHL after four concussions, now coaches kids’ hockey — with great care. His own son’s admission that he’s probably been concussed, and wouldn’t admit it lest he lose playing time, more or less sums up the film’s attitude about the playing-hurt ethos of sports in America.

James (“Hoop Dreams”) knows where to go for his information; he also knows the type of subject who works best in a film. Happily, in “Head Games,” these priorities coincide. All interviewees are passionate, likable, occasionally funny and not constrained by the talking-heads format, helping to bring to life what might have been a dry, numbers-driven subject.

Tech credits are topnotch, with a superlative look achieved by lensers Dana Kupper and Keith Walker; the manipulation of their imagery in post-production brings an appropriately dramatic effect to certain scenes.

Head Games

Production: A Variance Films release and presentation of a Head Games the Film production. Produced by Bruce Sheridan, Steve James. Executive producers, Steve Devick, Anthony Athanas, Casey Cowell, John Cronin, Andrew Filipowski, Frank Murane, Hank Neuberger, Jim O'Donovan. Directed by Steve James, inspired by "Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis" by Christopher Nowinski.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W), Dana Kupper, Keith Walker; editor, David E. Simpson; music, Billy Corgan, Craig J. Snider; music supervisor, Hank Neuberger, associate producer, Alan Schwarz. Reviewed online, New York, Sept. 18, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: With: Christopher Nowinski, Alan Schwarz, Ann McKee, Robert Cantu, Robert Stern, Keith Primeau.

More Film

  • Time to Hunt

    'Time to Hunt': Film Review

    As context for those unaware, South Korea does not have the equivalent of the United States’ Second Amendment. Instead, the country enforces strict gun control — privately owned weapons must be stored at the police station — and fatal shootings hardly ever happen there. That’s important to know when watching Korean movies: It explains why [...]

  • SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces

    SF Studios, Cinematic Inc. Join Forces on 'Comet in Moominland,' 'When the Doves Disappeared,' 'Omerta'

    SF Studios is joining forces with Antti J. Jokinen’s leading Finnish production banner Cinematic Inc. to develop and produce the animated feature “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared,” adapted from Sofi Oksanen’s bestseller. “Comet in Moominland” and “When the Doves Disappeared” are being made by both companies as part of a five-picture deal. [...]

  • Tiger Rising

    Exclusive First Look: 'The Tiger Rising' Starring Queen Latifah

    Queen Latifah and Madalen Mills star in Ray Giarratana’s “The Tiger Rising.” The drama is based on Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times Bestselling children’s book and produced by Deborah Giarratana and Ryan Donnell Smith.  Highland Film Group is handling worldwide sales, which are under at the European Film Market in Berlin. The Tiger Rising” is [...]

  • The Berlinale Bear is Seen in

    Berlinale Enlivened by Anti Chile State Violence Protests

    On Saturday afternoon the Martin Gropius Bau, the site of the Berlin Festival’s European Film Market, saw a group of anonymous protestors unfurl a big banner from one of the markets upper floors, with activists shouting out “How can you celebrate Chile when Chile is killing its own people?” The protests came at the Berlinale’s [...]

  • Vadim Perelman, Ilja Zofin, Lars Eidinger

    'Persian Lessons' Eidinger, Perelman Say Film Offers Parallels for Today

    Director Vadim Perelman and frequent Berlinale film star Lars Eidinger on Saturday championed their new Holocaust-set “Persian Lessons” as a timely, very German tale of how that dark history is closer to us than it seems, made uniquely possible by the fact that most of the film’s production team is not German. The film’s world [...]

  • Uppercase Print

    'Uppercase Print': Film Review

    History is a fanged presence in Romanian director Radu Jude’s recent films. Since 2015’s “Aferim!,” in both fiction and nonfiction formats, culminating in the heady tangle of the two approaches that was 2018’s remarkable “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians,” Jude has interrogated various incidents and epochs in his [...]

  • Clint Eastwood

    Clint Eastwood Ditches Donald Trump for Mike Bloomberg in 2020 Election

    Longtime Republican Clint Eastwood is pulling support from Donald Trump in the 2020 election. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the actor-director signaled that he thinks a different candidate would be the better choice. “The best thing we could do is just get Mike Bloomberg in there,” he said. After endorsing Mitt Romney [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content