Concussion arrived in theatres on Christmas, as the Will Smith vehicle finally reached the public after earning mixed critical reviews. We stated back in September that the real story’s complexity, along with studio honchos botching things up, would result in a movie that misses the point. Now that we’ve seen it, it’s even more obvious that Sony’s film cooks up drama with composite/fictional characters while ignoring the broader issues of institutional complicity that are at the heart of the NFL’s bad brains problem.
While Sony and Concussion director Peter Landesman deny the film was edited to prevent NFL protests, the differences between the script as originally prepared for production and how it ended up on screen strongly suggest otherwise. Here is a non-comprehensive list of changes made to Concussion between its initial production draft, dated Sept. 1, 2014 (as leaked in the Sony hack), and the version that appeared in theaters last week.
Goodell’s prominence in Concussion is significantly decreased, as is that of his predecessor Paul Tagliabue. Here are the words Concussion’s production draft put into the commish’s mouth upon his introduction:
What I’m here to do now, my main responsibility, is to protect the shield-- (the NFL logo)--the integrity of the game. There’s been some innuendo about the so-called dangers of playing football. I want us to go on enjoying our great game knowing our kids love it, respect it, never stop having fun. Now I’m talking to all the mothers out there now--The first thing I’m doing is to set a new commission, led by NFL medical chief Dr. Elliot Pellman, of the New York Jets, and task him to lead a summit--
And here’s how Luke Wilson’s Goodell said in the released version of the film:
What I’m here to do now is protect the shield. The NFL isn’t just a sports league. It’s an entertainment product. America’s game. I want us to go on... [inaudible]
Goodell’s words were changed again later, when speaking to a conference of NFL doctors. The production draft script was much less equivocal:
This scene, as it appeared in the movie:
GOODELL: This is an important day for the National Football League. We’ve had some very good dialogue which will help us improve the care for our players.
QUESTIONER: What do you think when you hear about former NFL players suffering from symptoms that have only been seen in boxers and people over eighty years old? What does that say about the effect of concussions on players?
GOODELL: I’m not a doctor here, but you have to look at their entire medical history. This is an evolving science, and that’s OK.
Later, Omalu speaks to the NFLPA “Concussion Committee.” The production draft script has Goodell present at this meeting; notably, it refers to Goodell “staring grimly at Omalu’s back.” Goodell does not appear in the scene as it appears in theaters.
Dozens of lines of dialogue were changed to modify characterizations of individuals or organizations portrayed in the film. Among them:
- Bennet’s line about knowing other players must suffer from the same symptoms of Mike Webster originally read: “But they’re dead. Or hidden in nursing homes.” That line appears on film as: “Or lost, like the way Mike Webster was lost.”
- University of Pittsburgh neuropathologist Ron Hamilton’s assertion upon verifying Omalu’s discovery of CTE that the NFL will “find a way to kill this” is removed.
- The production draft refers to Justin Strzelczyk’s death as the result of a “forty-mile high speed pursuit.” The film calls it a “fiery accident.”
- Dr. Elliot Pellman calls Omalu a “quack” in the production draft, but says “he looks like a nobody” in the finished film.
- A threatening call to Omalu originally went as follows. In the film, the references to the NFL (and the suggestion that the caller represents the league) are removed. Further acts of intimidation are also removed or toned down, and a scene where Omalu discovers his tires are slashed is missing.
- A later scene where former Steelers team doctor Julian Bailes says, “Think of the NFL team owners as ranchers, the coaches and doctors as ranch hands, and the players as cattle” is cut, as is his later claim that insurance companies offered him “millions of dollars to shut the hell up.” Also cut: references to Steelers owner Dan Rooney, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, and a complete subplot about Nigerian-born defensive tackle Amobi Okoye—Omalu’s cousin—who ended up in a coma for three months with a brain injury. (Landesman told WBUR that storyline was left out of the movie because audiences “didn’t believe it.”)
Concussion finished sixth in its opening weekend box office, just behind Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip.