A 9.2 N.Y. Times story by Ken Belson presents a fairly clear case that Peter Landesman‘s Concussion (Sony, 12.25) isn’t quite the blistering, truth-telling whistleblower drama presented in the just-released trailer.
The forthcoming film dramatizes the true-life saga of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — a then-new disease affecting football players — back in ’02, and how the NFL made his life hell as a result. Belson’s story, which relies on Sony hack e-mails, indicates that Sony execs felt it would be less troublesome from an N.F.L. standpoint to sand off some of the film’s edges.
The title of Belson’s piece, “Sony Altered ‘Concussion’ Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show,” says it neatly.
Concussion doesn’t open for another four months but whatever the final impressions may be, the film has definitely taken a hit in terms of its integrity. However fair or unfair, perceptions are everything. I don’t know if anyone was thinking all that strongly about Concussion as a 2015 Best Picture contender, but anyone who had thoughts along those lines is probably re-assessing them to some extent.
In dozens of studio emails unearthed by hackers,” Belson writes, “Sony executives; the director, Peter Landesman; and representatives of Mr. Smith discussed how to avoid antagonizing the N.F.L. by altering the script and marketing the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.”
Also from Belson: “Another email on Aug. 1, 2014, said some ‘unflattering moments for the N.F.L.’ were deleted or changed, while in another note on July 30, 2014, a top Sony lawyer is said to have taken ‘most of the bite’ out of the film ‘for legal reasons with the N.F.L. and that it was not a balance issue.’ Other emails in September 2014 discuss an aborted effort to reach out to the N.F.L.
This argues somewhat with that clip from the trailer of an angry Smith exclaiming that he’s trying to tell “the truth” and nothing but.
Belson’s piece doesn’t claim that the medical aspects of Dr. Omalu’s real-life revelations about CTE have been suppressed or distorted in the film, but it does indicate that the film could have been a little more pointed and ballsy, and that the N.F.L. is probably grateful to some extent for whatever specific adjustments may have been made.
Landesman gives Belson a definitive denial: “There was never an instance where we compromised the storytelling to protect ourselves from the N.F.L.”
He adds: “There were things that might have been creatively fun to have actors say that might not have been accurate in the heads of the N.F.L. or doctors. We might have gotten away with it legally, but it might have damaged our integrity as filmmakers. We didn’t have a need to make up anything because it was powerful and revelatory on its own.”
Is anyone surprised that Sony wanted to tone down the hard-hitting aspects fo the film? The sociopathic nature of corporations means, of course, that they are not (and could never be) unbridled truth-tellers. They can only be relied upon to do whatever seems necessary in order to maximize profits. No biggie, business as usual, etc.
The downside is that Concussion now has something to prove. The upside is that people watching it may come away saying to themselves, “Hey, it didn’t feel that soft to me!…felt to me like a fairly tough and sturdy drama.”