Today's screenwriters often have little use for white and black hats.
The modern hero is less than perfect, to put it mildly. Think Showtime's "Dexter," or films like the "Bourne" franchise where shades of gray are the order of the day.
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The era of John Wayne-style heroes is no more.
Enter "Safe House," the new Denzel Washington thriller about a rogue CIA agent who possesses a file so important people are lining up to kill him. Washington's character, Tobin Frost, is a prime example of the modern anti-hero. He's a mastermind who went off the grid a decade ago against the will of his government.
At least that's what we're told.
The film keeps us guessing about Tobin's true nature, and that's part of the story's appeal. But "Safe House's" impressive nuance ends abruptly when it's time to give us a typical Hollywood finale. (Major Spoilers Ahead)
The story's big reveal involves a number of government spy agencies trying to hide damaging information on some of their members. So one of the film's key characters chooses to leak the information in toto so the bad guys can be outed - and punished.
But what other information got leaked? Were there field agents compromised by the intelligence dump? Could the move impact ongoing missions or terrorism tracking efforts?
The film just doesn't care. The screenwriters insist full and complete transparency, in the grand WikiLeaks style, is the order of the day. The leaker is deemed a hero for dumping the data. Real life doesn't work that way, and the film is poorly served by pretending it does.
So which is it, Hollywood? Are anti-heroes and shades of gray the building blocks for great stories? Or are they gimmicks to be set aside when there's an agenda in play?