The recent high-profile U.S. shootings — most notably in a movie theater in Colorado in July and an elementary school in Connecticut just before Christmas — have brought attention back to gun violence in popular culture. It's an issue the people behind two of this month's more bullet-ridden releases have had to grapple with while promoting their films.
"It's obviously something that's affected all of us. I don't think anybody has spent the last few weeks not thinking a lot about that, but this is fantasy and that's reality," says Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer of the Arnold Schwarzenegger shoot-em-up "The Last Stand," out later this month. "I think we need to figure out reality, and fantasy always follows reality. I'm not a politician, so I'll stay off my point of view, but it's clearly something that all of us have a great deal of respect for what those people have suffered, and we don't look at this as part of that. They're two different things."
One film that's been even more closely linked to recent tragedy is "Gangster Squad," about police going to war with a ruthless criminal in 1940s L.A. Originally, the film featured a scene depicting mobsters opening fire on a movie theater full of patrons, but Warner Bros. quickly decided to cut the scene and postpone the film's release following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. "The Aurora shooting was an unspeakable tragedy, and out of respect for the families of the victims, we felt it necessary to reshoot that sequence, and I'm proud of the fact that I did that," director Ruben Fleischer says. "I think that we should all respect the tragedy and not draw associations to our film as a result of ... I mean to these types of tragedies."
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While producers and directors might be careful with their statements, their stars are much more willing to spout off on the topic. "Gangster Squad" star Josh Brolin thinks connecting violence onscreen to violence in real life is a misguided oversimplification. "You have to look at the grand scheme of things, from a universal standpoint," Brolin, who fires his fair share of rounds in "Gangster Squad," says. "You have video games, you have psycho-pharmaceuticals, you have lowest employment, you have parents that aren’t at home. You have CNN who gloms on to the worst of what’s going on and not necessarily the best or the most heroic. So, there’s many different factors. There’s always been violence in movies and there always will be violence in movies. Whether it leads to the one psychotic that’s out there that’s thinking the worst thoughts you can possibly think is always going to be a mystery, I think."
Schwarzenegger agrees that scapegoating entertainment is a mistake. "It's two different issues. This is entertainment, and the other thing is a tragedy beyond belief and it's serious and the real deal," he says, referring to the shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The former governor of California, who's no stranger to hot-button issues, already sees plenty of areas that need investigating. "How can we do better with gun laws? If there is any loophole, if there is a problem there, let's analyze it. Let's not jump to conclusions, let's analyze," he says. "And let's also find out are we really dealing with the mental problems the right way as a society? Do we have a mechanism in place that if we see someone that is unstable, what do we do with that person? Remember, we are not in China or some country where you make people disappear. In America you can't just arrest someone because they act strange. What do we do with that, when we see someone that is unstable? And so we have to analyze how do we deal with mental illnesses, how do we deal with the gun laws, how do we deal with parenting? Does a mother need to collect those guns and take her little kids shooting? Everything has to be analyzed, no stone unturned. And I think that's what we owe to our people, and I think that's what they ought to do, rather than make it political."