Movie review: ‘The United States of Football’ fumbles its message

A scene from "The United States of Football."

One way to describe the NFL’s handling of concussions and their debilitating effects on football players — studies have pointed to brain-altering consequences such as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) — is as a costly fumble. Whether it’s the type of misstep that could change the outcome of the sport is another matter, one that filmmaker Sean Pamphilon wrestles with in his documentary “The United States of Football.”

Beginning with the question of whether he should allow his young son to play the sport, Pamphilon talks to concerned doctors, questioning players, shell-shocked wives of the injured, coaches lamenting their violent pastime being watered down, and journalists/sportscasters. The result, regrettably, is a structural, chronological mess of information and emotion, so chaotically shot and edited to move from stat to image to sound bite that it suffers from its own concentration issues. (Why so much time on ex-player Kyle Turley’s music career?)

Though the occasional grim nugget of thought-provoking information emerges — helmets so safety-engineered, for example, they give players a dangerously unwarranted sense of invincibility — it’s impossible to keep track of the timeline of medical discoveries, haphazard mismanaging of the issue, players’ responses and so on. Made with palpable anxiety for the future of a beloved sport, “The United States of Football” is nevertheless its own missed play.



“The United States of Football”

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: At the Landmark, West L.A.