Rumors were swirling earlier this week over whether Warner Bros. Pictures would rush to reshoot a portion of their shoot'em-up action drama Gangster Squad out of sensitivity to the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado. The film, directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) featured a scene in which a group of tommy gun-carrying mobsters open fire in a movie theater (the footage was also included in trailers attached to The Dark Knight Rises). WB immediately pulled the trailer, and early reports indicated that they would edit the sequence completely out of the final cut. Now the studio has confirmed the choice to remove the scene, along with a pushed release date that gives the studio plenty of breathing room for additional photography. Originally slated for September 7, 2012, Gangster Squad is now slated for January 11, 2013.
The choice to bump Gangster Squad raises a few eyebrows. With a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, and two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn, the period drama, even with its pulpy roots and action sensibilities, was considered an Oscar contender. But the January 13 date puts it squarely in middling blockbuster territory, a release window recently reserved for the likes of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Book of Eli, My Bloody Valentine 3D, and several installments of the Underworld franchise. While the date lacks the confidence of an early-award season debut, the early 2013 could still be a signal from WB that the movie has Oscar potential. If the rewriting and reshoots process are quickly wrapped up, the movie could potentially open in limited release in late December, qualifying it for Academy Award contention. That decision was not part of WB's initial announcement of the release date shift.
Beyond the business and award ramifications of moving Gangster Squad from its original release date is the artistic fallout from the move. Warner Bros. editing out a scene of movie theater violence made sense when the movie was only weeks away from release, but if reshoots require a lengthy production period, so much so that the movie must be bumped to 2013, is the change necessary? Will the violent imagery still be a problem for audiences with four months of padding? No one has seen Gangster Squad yet. No one knows what the movie theater shootout means to the bigger arc of the film. No one knows if it can be reasonably replaced with an alternate scenario and still function coherently in the narrative. But one thing is for sure: Fleischer intended the frightening scene to be there. Caving on the choice comes off as infringement to the creative side of the filmmaking business, whether Fleischer supports the decision or not. People will not forget about the shooting in Aurora anytime soon, but like any tragedy, the "too soon" mentality eventually dissipates. How long will Hollywood fear offending its audiences? At least until January, it would seem.
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[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]