Earlier this week, the first trailer for Sony‘s football head-injury exposé drama “Concussion” dropped, and the studio is already busy managing the careful narrative they’re going to stick to in the months of promotion that lay ahead, in addition to a possible awards run. The studio which also released inspired-by-true-story tales like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Moneyball,” and “The Social Network” knows firsthand that the veracity of “Concussion” will come under scrutiny, but even more, their movie takes on one of the biggest and most beloved institutions in America: the N.F.L. And even before cameras rolled, Sony’s lawyers were making sure they didn’t poke the sports lion in the eye.
The film stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu who discovers that football’s constant head injuries could lead to degenerative brain disease. This would mean potential lawsuits for the N.F.L. and a major stain on the game, and the sport pushes back, trying to discredit the man and his work. It’s potent stuff, but also the kind of material to make the league very uncomfortable and/or litigious, and Sony lawyers were quite aware.
According to The New York Times who dug into Sony’s hacked emails, material was cut from the script by Sony’s lawyers “for legal reasons with the N.F.L. and that it was not a balance issue.” However, for director Peter Landesman, who confirms material was deleted, he says it was all in the name of making the drama “better and richer and fairer.”
And as he elaborates to EW, the point of the movie is not necessarily to attack the football league. “This is not a movie that is intended to take down the NFL or destroy football. I love football. I played it, into two years of college. And our intent with reaching out to [Sports Illustrated writer] Peter [King, who launched the film’s trailer] was, this is a move that all audiences can watch, enjoy, learn from, but also be mesmerized by what I think is actually a ground-breaking performance, maybe the best performance Will Smith has ever given,” Landesman said. “And we were reaching out to America’s biggest sports institution to be inclusive. So this isn’t a take-down piece. That being said, Peter King, who is, as you said, the insider of insiders, the fact that he’s embraced this movie, loved it, was eager to write about, was eager to be the one to introduce it to the world, I think that says an enormous amount.”
The director also trumpets the fact that Sony can tell this movie with little compromise because they’re “the only studio without broadcast relationships with the N.F.L.,” and they are backing his vision, which also sees the filmmaker including actual league logos, even though the production didn’t get explicit permission.
“…the studio really courageously was supportive. There’s no way to tell the story without showing real football, without showing real football players, to get the texture and the understanding and the tremendous violence inside the game. So it became an imperative for us to be able to do it. What I was told by the studio was, ‘You’re protected. We’re behind you. This will be fine.’ And I was allowed to do it,” he said.
So it seems like there is a balancing act going on between telling a provocative drama that somehow avoids making a target of the N.F.L. We’ll see how this works out when the movie opens on Christmas Day, right on time for playoff season.