It’s hard to imagine Washington joining an amoral romp like “Ocean’s 11” or “Pulp Fiction.” The same is true for Eastwood and Hanks. They are escape personalities who affirm the importance of virtue.

They are also intensely American figures, embodying different national myths. As both a star and the producer- director of “Band of Brothers” and “From the Earth to the Moon,” Hanks represents the New Deal patriotism of the postwar vital center, with its faith in collective endeavors and the institutions that pursue them. Eastwood is, of course, the contemporary incarnation of the frontier hero. They are the James Stewart and Gary Cooper of our times…

When Washington takes on a supposedly nonracial part like the pilot in “Flight” or the bad cop in “Training Day,” he inhabits the role with a body, an accent and an attitude that are, like his first name, identifiably African-American. He is not a man who tolerates disrespect. And because he is almost always the most capable, and often the most admirable, guy in the room, audiences don’t just respect him. They want to be him.