Just as a flawless hero cannot easily inspire, a hero whose flaws appear contrived will just as likely fail to engage the viewer. Fortunately, we need not contrive them at all for this story. Here’s why.
Liberty in the Fires, as it will be released internationally, is also Men of Gray III, as it will be released in Trinidad & Tobago and anywhere else that the original two movies are well known. The point: I’m not creating Joe from scratch; he has a rich history — one that we need to be true to for the sake of our existing audience, in fact. From that Men of Gray I and II history, we can find logical, believable, life-altering events that would naturally have shaped Joe Cameron’s personality and beliefs in the 16-or-so years that have passed since we last saw him as a 20-something cop in Men of Gray II – Flight of the Ibis.
For instance, we know from the first two movies that Joe is a passionate and principled man. But we also know that, if Joe has been valiantly soldiering on as a Trinidad & Tobago officer of the law for all these years, then he has done so in a country that has seen stunning increases in the rate of violent crime, several shocking political scandals, and an increasingly difficult economic situation. Those events and conditions would directly affect a police officer. Furthermore, many Trinbagonians have publicly expressed a growing level of disrespect for, or distrust of, their police force, either because of corrupt elements within the ranks or because the police appear to be losing ground or effectiveness on many fronts against the unlawful elements of society. So, into this environment, we’re placing the fictional Officer Joe Cameron who likely faces frequent public ridicule from those who’ve lost faith in him and his comrades. These kinds of ongoing pressures can chip away at any person’s will to keep striving for righteousness.
So, we use that. We show Joe wrestling with the kinds of issues that real-world Commissioner of Police Randolph Burroughs must have struggled with — how long to continue sticking to principle — to keep striving for justice in a world where the law too often fails to bring the unlawful to justice. What can Joe do when faced with the realization that, in a broken justice system, his principled ways cannot bring about justice? When those ideals of righteousness and justice become incompatible, Joe’s zeal becomes a weakness that could drive him to abandon principle for the hope of achieving justice.
That’s how the plot of this story can test Joe and show us his flaws. Meanwhile, earlier events could have damaged his wholeness. For instance, we know from the first two Men of Gray stories that Joe has been personally victimized by violence; his wife and several close friends were killed before his eyes. His son was kidnapped and nearly killed. He was falsely accused of murder and hunted down by his own country — made a pariah of the law that he had sworn to defend. We can very easily assume that these events would scar him mentally. So, in this story, we meet a Joe Cameron that has never remarried. Could that not suggest that Joe has relationally isolated himself — preventing the deep hurt of love lost by not loving deeply ever since those tragic events? And, since he has raised his son Sean alone, imagine the kinds of relational problems those two would face when the dad has serious intimacy issues! To make matters worse, in this story, Sean has grown up to become a police officer himself. It’s reasonable to think that, even though Joe ought to be proud of his son’s desire to serve his country, he would also fear that he spent his entire fatherhood trying to protect his son from ever again being endangered by evil men, only to now have him volunteer to be in the line of fire. What anguish!
And that’s the fun of story creation. Now, we have a man before us that we can understand and appreciate: a man that is full of hurt that he cannot face up to, full of fear that he cannot protect others from danger, full of ideals that he cannot achieve, and full of passions that gets pummeled at every turn.
That, I feel, is the most compelling approach to this story: to present a protagonist with believable human weaknesses and then to have those character flaws continually interfere with his goals.
And yet … he must be a man that won’t give up the fight. A hero.
That then is the goal: to create a protagonist whose sacrificial passion for restoring his country to greatness inspires us, even as we’re morbidly drawn into his battle against those all-too-familiar internal demons and relational difficulties that keep interfering with his social goals. Then, the real drama of this story becomes less about the surface plotline and more about the interfering character flaws that Joe must overcome, or at least battle into submission, or else he will risk losing the societal battles of the primary plotline.