As I've touched on a few times in past articles, one of the biggest things that hold many films back today is a separation from the reality that they draw inspiration or stories from. The problem with these films isn't inherently that they deviate from the truth. In fact, when done well, this can make a film much stronger than it would be otherwise by creating moments of tension, angst, revelation, or catharsis that translate to film better than reality would.

The problem is that, generally, these deviations are not done in order to create these interesting moments, but instead are done in order to make the story more straightforward, and eliminate moral ambiguity and nuance.

Life is full of inspirational people and stories, but unlike they are routinely portrayed in film, these sources of inspiration cannot really be boiled down to a three-act cinematic arc. This is a problem that has plagued Hollywood for a long time now, and is why we should be truly impressed when films based on true stories transcend this and are actually well done.

However, there is another wrinkle in the based on a true story genre that I have noticed lately. This is how they interact with how our world is changing, and how arcs that once belonged solely in the world of fiction are now seeping into the real world.

A place where this can be seen is in one of my personal favorites among incredibly specific film genres: movies where genius computer hackers (almost always teenagers) have to reluctantly use their skills for good in order to save the world, generally after being recruited by the government (such as WarGames, Live Free or Die Hard, and Hackers, to name a few).

The driving force of these films could be found in the unlikeliness of the story. It's in the dichotomy between the rebellious, rule-breaking hacker kid and the rigidity of the government agents they are now forced to work with. It's old guard vs. new guard.

It's Justin Long and Bruce Willis.


In our current world, however, this idea is no longer so far-fetched. In fact, the practice of legitimate entities hiring hackers is actually fairly common now, and the work is much more routine than Hollywood guessed it would be. This makes the entire conceit of the genre fairly difficult to pull off.

So, how do filmmakers respond when suddenly faced now having an obligation to reality in stories where they have not before, especially when that truth doesn't live up to predecessors within the genre?

In this case so far, not well.

The recent entries into this type of movie have been rather disappointing overall. Recent films like Blackhat, and The Fifth Estate have drawn, either directly or indirectly, from the realities of hacking in today's world, but in doing so, they had to sacrifice the fun that made earlier films work.

There are times when films suffer because of how disconnected from reality they are, but this is not necessarily a universal statement. As shown by the shift of hacker films toward being either based on or inspired by true stories, sometimes films need to remain detached from reality in order to be entertaining.

In reality, though, both sides of the equation boil down to the same problem of movies being diluted down in order to tell a cleaner, easier story, and that's what the real issue is.