NEW YORK (AP) — Sony Pictures insists that the Will Smith film "Concussion" was not "softened" to placate the NFL.
Emails leaked by last year's hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed executives, lawyers and filmmakers making edits to the film after wrestling with whether "Concussion" would antagonize the NFL.
After a comprehensive review of those emails, The New York Times on Tuesday reported that Sony blunted parts of the film to avoid upsetting the NFL. Smith plays the forensic pathologist, Dr. Bennet Omalu, who uncovered the fatal effects of repeated head trauma suffered by many NFL players.
But in a statement Wednesday, Sony Pictures called the Times story "misleading" and noted it was written without the benefit of seeing the film.
"As will become immediately clear to anyone actually seeing the movie, nothing with regard to this important story has been 'softened' to placate anyone," said Sony.
Landesman, too, is standing by the film.
"We always intended to make an entertaining, hard-hitting film about Dr. Omalu's David-and-Goliath story, which played out like a Hollywood thriller," said Landesman. "Anyone who sees the movie will know that it never once compromises the integrity and the power of the real story."
A handful of football reporters and broadcasters who have seen "Concussion," which opens in December, have backed up that claim. NBC's Bob Costas, in a statement supplied by Sony, said: "It doesn't appear to me many punches were pulled."
Sports Illustrated's Peter King also said he'd seen the film. On Twitter, he called it "a huge black eye for the NFL."
The Sony emails leaked by hackers, however, suggest some alterations were made to "Concussion." Less clear, in a review of the emails by The Associated Press, is whether they were motivated by cowing to the NFL, an organization known for aggressive image protection, or if the film was tweaked out of the risk-adverse legal concerns that regularly govern major studio motion picture releases.
One email discusses a top Sony lawyer taking "most of the bite" out of the film "for legal reasons with the NFL." Another shows Sony marketing chief Dwight Caines discussing "developing messaging with the help of NFL consultant to ensure that we are telling a dramatic story and not kicking the hornet's nest."
The film's trailer, which debuted Monday, dramatizes the NFL as a foreboding opposition to Omalu's heroic whistle-blower. In it, he's warned: "You're going to war with a corporation that owns a day of the week."
The NFL has declined to comment on the film, which will hit theaters in the heart of its upcoming season. It is not believed to have any business relationship with Sony.
Jeff Miller, NFL senior vice president of health and safety policy, has said the league is "encouraged by the ongoing focus" on player safety.