The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Why Are the Heroes All So Old? Character Ages, Character Credibility


Just play along with Grandpa's joke.

My sister and I watched a lot of movies when I was a kid. Sally introduced me to All that Jazz, Minnie and Moskowitz, (big Cassavetes fan) and a bat-shit-crazy musical called, The Apple. She has eclectic taste to say the least.

Sally also has cutting insight, noticing things I never considered, (in my defense, I had just started considering breakfast). When we watched John Badham’s (then) futuristic Blue Thunder, she pointed out that in most police movies, the lead is either a war veteran or old, (at the time Sally was 27 and I was 13). She said it made relating difficult. 

Honestly, the helicopter was the star of the show.

As good an actor as Roy Scheider was, he looked every day of his 50 years in Blue Thunder. Yet, the math adds up. Scheider’s Frank Murphy was a veteran of the Vietnam War, (the war had been over just 9 years at the time of filming). He had been a helicopter pilot in the army. That means college, flight school, etc. 

It also means when the war ended, a lot of pilots scrambled for work. It’s no far reach that Murphy would’ve jumped at a city job with benefits when guys like Francis Gary Powers, (U2 pilot held captive by the Russians) worked as a traffic report pilot for television stations. 

Still, Sally’s question remains. Why are all the leads so old?

That has stuck with me. When Danny Glover’s Sergeant Murtaugh says “I’m too old for this shit,” it’s funny. But Danny was 40 when Richard Donner’s Leathal Weapon was filmed. That is the perfect (by statistics) age for a detective. 


By contrast, Glover’s co-star, bigoted-anti-semite Mel Gibson, was born in 1956. Gibson’s character, Martin Riggs, was supposed to be both an undercover narcotics officer and a special forces bad-ass trained up in Vietnam. However, Gibson was 30 when the movie was made. He would’ve been 18 just as America exited Vietnam. The average cop working undercover is 49. 

So why not thirty or twenty or twelve? 

The human brain doesn’t finish developing until the mid-to-late twenties. Women’s brains develop a couple of years quicker than men’s brains. But anyone who’s spent time with twenty-something-year-old dudes already knew that.

Most cops are considered a rookie for their first year on the job. They are partnered with an experienced cop and make no move without the senior cop’s direction. They have no experience, they have no instincts, they typically haven’t been in a grown up fight. Like Frank Serpico, many realize, quickly, the job isn’t for them. In fact, the average is police officer only stays on the job for seven-years.


For reasons...

Conversely, it is exactly the reason why the military wants kids right out of highschool and limits enlistment to 29-years of age, (26 for the Marines). They want young, mealiable minds to form and train. Kidding, they want dumb-ass kids who are more afraid of the sergeant they believe will kick the crap out of them than the enemy they have never seen.

Those kids, once exposed to the horror of combat—without the benefit of the reasoning skills of a fully developed adult with full cognitive development—are also inclined to do horrendous shit once afraid. They don’t always consider their actions or consequences.

Every dude over 30: Nope

So, why is the guy playing Private Gump 306 years old? Well, Hollywood is fond of actors who have done some work, have experienced some unemployment, and want to show up. Ideally on time, knowing their lines, and not rocking the boat. 

There's history in those decisions

Twenty-something Charlie Chaplin couldn't keep it in his pants. One of the biggest stars of the silent era, Chaplin was one of the founders of United Artists and his influence on comedic films is still evident today. His sexual predation of underage girls wrecked his reputaion, his career, and nearly destroyed UA. 

James Dean was notoriously problematic with costars and directors. Brando was, by all accounts, a nightmare who couldn’t be bothered to control his weight or know his lines. Montgomery Clift had addiction and closet issues. 

Clift’s career, (called “the long suicide”) spanned less than 20 years. Dean’s time on film wasn’t even half that. Only Brando enjoyed a full career (and long life) even as his final years were more caricature than performance. 

Clint was 483 when this was made.

Old is also, (bafflingly) bankable

Meanwhile, John Wayne (and the dead cat that rode in on him) was still playing cowboys and cops at an age where both would’ve considered him “old and in the way.” Eastwood ~sigh~ just hung up his spurs after an ill-received chat with an empty chair. Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neesen are still knocking heads on screen with neither relying on a girdle though Neesen’s ever-changing hairline looks “sus.”

Yet boyish and dewy-fresh.

Audiences like mature heroes. Mature, reassuring, and older-brother-ish, just on the edge of paternal. It’s why the average age of Marvel Cinematic Universe actors is 37. Robert Downey Jr. was 42 when he made the first Iron Man.

Outstanding Marines, right there...

With the aid of (mature) military advisors, Kubrick turned twenty-something actors into Marines. Stone, (who actually served in Vietnam) turned Charlie Sheen into a soldier. And Spielberg turned Tom Hanks into a platoon leader. Tony Scott did none of that and it showed.

Credibility—this isn't it.

In Walter Hill’s Forty-Eight Hours, Reggie Hammond (Eddie Murphy, playing the stick-up kid) tells Jack Cates, (Nick Nolte, playing Nick Nolte) that cops only get by with rousting people because of the badge and gun. Cates replies that it is attitude and experience. Hammond replies, “bullshit.”

A casestudy in maturity, or something...

And bullshit it may be but we still gravitate to mature heroes and mostly because, whether we want to admit it or not, have experienced some bullshit. We have seen the cool kids and we know what happens when you lean on them. 

No. We want leads with lines on their faces, something that says they’ve seen some things and have survived it. It gives us hope we will too. 

Unlike Lethal Weapon 5.

The special effects look stunning.

I own none of the photos above. All are used for educational/instructional purposes, as covered by the Fair Use Doctrine.

No comments:

Post a Comment