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Structural Film Breakdowns

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American Beauty (1999)

Sam Mendes (Director)

Alan Ball (Screenplay)

Act One

Sequence 1

Set up of world via Lester’s (Kevin Spacey’s) V.O. He is a bored, disillusioned 42-year-old man who lives in the suburbs with his success-obsessed, realtor wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and his 16-year-old daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), who lacks self-confidence.

Inciting Incident: (9:50) The new neighbors move in next door to the Burnhams. Ricky (Wes Bentley) videotapes Lester.

(15:55) Lester first sees Angela (Mena Suvari) dancing in the gymnasium.

Sequence 2

(28:05) Ricky introduces himself to Jane at school. He thinks she’s “interesting.”

(32:00) Lester meets pot dealer Ricky, who is working a catering gig, at one of Carolyn’s real estate parties.

(34:15) While smoking pot out back with Lester, Ricky quits his job when his boss comes out and wants him back in. Lester says Ricky is his new role model. 

Goal: Lester wants to feel alive and lustful and youthful again. He wants to get teenaged Angela to notice him; his obsession and furtive flirtation with Angela begins.

Stake: His family—wife and daughter—and social disgrace if caught.

Act Two

Sequence 3

(43:30) Lester fantasizes over Angela in the bath.

(44:15) Carolyn catches Lester masturbating in bed. It causes a fight.

(45:10) Lester says in the fight, “Well, guess what? I’ve changed.” He stands up to his wife for the first time in years. 

Sequence 4

(52:00) Lester blackmails his company for one year’s salary plus benefits.

(57:00) Lester gets a job at Burger Palace.

(59:30) Ricky talks about seeing beauty in things as he and Jane walk home from school.

(1:03:50) Ricky and Jane watch the blowing bag footage and Ricky says, “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel I can’t take it.”

(1:04:35) Ricky and Jane kiss.

Sequence 5

False sense of security: (1:15:30) Feeling good, Lester hits on his wife, Carolyn. He tries to remind her of whom she used to be and comes onto her (but she scolds him for almost spilling beer on their expensive silk couch—moment ruined).

Sequence 6

(1:27) After trying to patch things up with Carolyn, Lester overhears her and the “Real Estate King” at a drive-thru burger joint (Lester’s new day job). Lester laughs off the situation. When Carolyn says, “Lester, stop it,” Lester replies that she doesn’t get to tell him what to do ever again.

Act Three

Lester’s New Goal: Have sex with Angela. Start a new life. To hell with Carolyn and Jane.

Sequence 7

(1:31:40) Looking out the window, Col. Frank Fitts (Chris Cooper) thinks he sees his son, Ricky, performing oral sex on Lester for money.

(1:34) Frank hits Ricky. Ricky tells his dad what a sad man he is. Fists held up, Frank is crying as Ricky leaves.

(1:36:30) Carolyn pumps herself up from a self-help tape. Not wanting to be a victim she grabs her gun from the glove box.

(1:37) Jane and Angela have a fight. Ricky comes in and asks Jane to leave with him. He has 40K and they can run away to New York. Jane says yes. Ricky calls Angela ugly and ordinary. She leaves upset and cries on the stairs.

(1:39) Frank shows up at the Burnhams’ garage where Lester is working out.

(1:40) Lester tells Frank that his marriage with Carolyn is just for show.

(1:41:10) Frank kisses Lester. Lester says, “I’m sorry. You got the wrong idea.” Frank leaves.

Sequence 8

(1:42:55) Lester finds Angela upset.

(1:45:33) Lester kisses Angela. Intercut with Carolyn racing home.

(1:47:15) Angela tells Lester it’s her “first time.” This stops Lester. She cries and feels stupid and he holds her and tells her everything is okay.

(1:49:15) Lester asks Angela how Jane is. Angela says Jane is happy and thinks she is in love. He is happy to hear this and says, “Good for her.’ Angela asks, “How are you?”  Lester responds that, “It’s been a long time since anybody’s asked me that. I’m great. I’m great.”

Climax: (1:51) Lester looks at a photo of him, Carolyn, and Jane. In the photo, they are all happy. A gun comes into frame on the back of his head. Blood blasts onto the wall.

(1:52:40) Ricky looks at Lester’s dead body and face…seeing beauty in it, Ricky smiles.

(1:53:20) We hear Lester in VO talking about the second before you die. We see images of his family and what is important to him and also the other characters as the shot took place.

(1:54) Frank is back at his home, gun in his hand and covered in blood.

The Bourne Identity (2002)

Doug Liman (Director/Producer)

Tony Gilroy (Screenplay)

W. Blake Herron (Screenplay)

Robert Ludlum (Novel)

Act One

Sequence 1

Fishermen rescue Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) at sea. He cannot remember who he is. His ordinary world is lost, and he is plagued by nightmares.

Inciting Incident: (11:00) Not knowing who he is, Jason is disturbed when sleeping on a park bench by two cops. He reacts to their force, disarming and killing, realizing that whoever he is he has some mad killing skills.

(16:40) Discovers a Swiss bank account number on his hip. At the bank, he finds a passport and thinks he’s Jason and lives in Paris. Then he finds other passports with different names and cities. This mystery of his identity widens. 

Sequence 2

Crisis: (25:55) Jason approaches Marie (Franka Potente) in the alley for a ride. He’ll pay her 10K now and 10K later if she’ll drive him to Paris. She takes it.

Goal: To find out who he is.

Stake: Investigating and tracing the steps of who he is attracts more people trying to kill him and reveals information about himself that he doesn’t like. Jason needs Marie’s help, but he is putting her in danger and falling in love with her. 

Act Two

Sequence 3

(42:00) At his Paris apartment, Jason calls the number last dialed from his phone. It is the Hotel Regina and Jason learns that he stayed there under the name “John Michael Kane” but that Kane is dead and his brother came to get the body.

(44:20) A hitman crashes through the Paris apartment window trying to kill Jason.

(46:00) Jason struggles to figure out who he is. This guy who crashed through has pictures of them. The hitman gets up and jumps out the high window committing suicide.

Sequence 4

Midpoint: (52:30) After arguing over what to do in the car, Jason says, “Last chance, Marie.” We think Marie is reaching for the door handle to leave, but she instead puts on her seatbelt. She is with him.

Sequence 5

False sense of security: (1:13:40) After visiting the morgue for John Michael Kane and steeling the sign-in list, Jason figures out from a newspaper article that, “It says I’m an assassin.” He knows who he is.

Sequence 6

(1:23:20) Jason “I don’t care who I am or what I did.” He doesn’t want to know. He tells Marie, “We have this money. We can hide.” She is not sure that she can do that with him and responds, “I don’t know.”

(1:28:45) At the country house, Jason shoots another assassin (Clive Owen) and tries to get info from him. Clive says, “I work alone. Like you. We always work alone.” As Clive is dying he tells him “Treadstone poisonous.” His last words tell Jason to go to Paris.

(1:31:15) Jason and Marie part ways. He gives her enough money to make any life she wants. He is going off on his own and says, “I’ll end it.”

Act Three

Jason’s New Goal:  Now that Jason knows who he is, he wants to know who it is that is trying to kill him and why by solving the mystery of Treadstone.

Sequence 7

(1:43:30) Having tracked down Treadstone and the Paris office, Jason talks with Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Jason remembers (in a flashback) what happened that night. He was on the job when he saw a child and couldn’t follow through with it (flaw). Sympathetic assassin.

Sequence 8

(1:45:00) Jason quits. He’s on his own now. He punches Conklin.

(1:46:45) As he is leaving the Treadstone Paris office, Jason kills two assassins on his way out.

(1:48:20) We think a final assassin is waiting for Jason in the alley, but the assassin gets out of the car and shoots Conklin. Cutting to DC we see that Ward Abbott (Brian Cox) gave the order and says, “Shut it down.” Treadstone is finished.

(1:49:20) Under investigation, Ward Abbott tells a DC panel that Treadstone was already shut down because it was too expensive.

(1:50) Somewhere on the Mediterranean Coast, Marie has a breezy store that she rents mopeds out of. Bourne walks in and sees her. She was hard to find. They hug and reunite.

Se7en (1995)

David Fincher (Director)

Andrew Kevin Walker (Screenplay)

Act One

Sequence 1

Set up of world with Det. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and Det. David Mills (Brad Pitt). It is seven days before Somerset’s retirement.

Inciting Incident—on Monday, two murders (10:00):

  1. “Gluttony”: Spaghetti.
  2. “Greed”: Attorney Eli Gould. Bled to death, cut out one pound of flesh.

Sequence 2

(23:15) First note found: Gluttony behind fridge on wall in grease. Serial killer profile established.

Act Two

Goal: Catch “John Doe.”

Stakes: Prevent more murders from being committed.

Sequence 3

Note from Milton (Paradise Lost): “This is the beginning.”

Foreshadow re: severed head in book at public library.

Interview Mrs. Gould (widow)—she notices photo of painting; it’s upside down. Etched into wall behind painting: “Help me.” Fingerprint found. Match: Victor—possible suspect. 

  1. “Sloth”: Victor found, barely alive in coma.

Sequence 4

(59:00) Midpoint: Somerset meets Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) in diner. She reveals she’s pregnant, but David doesn’t know. Somerset reveals abortion in his past: he regrets it. 

Library books and FBI helper leads them to apartment of John Doe. Big Chase. 

(1:14) John Doe (Kevin Spacey) has gun to Mills’ head, but doesn’t pull trigger.

(1:16) Inside Doe’s apartment. No fingerprints in apartment. But photographer at last scene was John Doe.

Phone call from Doe: “I admire you. I respect law enforcement now more than ever.” (because they found his apartment).

Sequence 5

On Saturday:

  1. “Lust”: Dead whore. Fucked to death with sword strap-on.

(1:32) Somerset throws metronome across room; he wants vengeance, losing control.

Sequence 6

  1. “Pride”: Vain woman. Glued phone to nose/glued sleeping pills. He cut off her nose to spite her face. If she called for help, she’d be disfigured forever.

(1:34) John Doe walks into police precinct—turns himself in.

Act Three

New Goal:  Stop the final two deadly sins.

Sequence 7

(1:36) Two more dead bodies, two detectives must take him out into field or else he’ll never tell.

  1. “Envy”
  2. “Wrath”

Ticking Clock:  At 7:01 p.m., a van arrives with box. Somerset opens it. 

John Doe: “She begged for her life and for the baby inside her. You didn’t know.”

Sequence 8

Mills consumed by wrath. Somerset: “If you kill him, he wins.”

Mills pulls the trigger. Arrested. 

Somerset doesn’t retire. “I’ll be around.” 

Hemingway quote: “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part.” 

The Town (2010)

Ben Affleck (Director/Writer—Screenplay)

Peter Craig (Screenplay)

Aaron Stockard (Screenplay)

Chuck Hogan (Writer of novel Prince of Thieves)

Act One

Sequence 1

Introduction of four longtime friends who are also bank robbers: Doug McRay (Ben Affleck), Jim Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), Gloansy Magloan (Slaine), and Dez Elden (Owen Burke) from Charlestown, a dangerous part of Boston. At their next bank robbery, Doug falls for the bank manager, Claire (Rebecca Hall), the witness with the blindfold.

Inciting Incident: (9:50) At the iceless ice rink, Jim has Claire’s license and she lives in the neighborhood. They need to determine if Claire is a threat and if she needs to be threatened to remain silent. Doug says he’ll confront her.

Sequence 2

(23:30) Doug casually “meets” Claire at a laundromat—and ends up asking her out on a date to earn her trust. On their date, Claire tells Doug that she is working with the FBI.

Crisis: (25:30) Doug tells Jim that Claire doesn’t know anything. He lies.

(26:30) Claire tells Doug she lied to the FBI. She saw a tattoo. She could make them.

Act Two

Doug’s Goal:  Doug wants to have one last robbery and then get out (with the girl—Claire—who still has no idea that he’s the guy who robbed her bank).

Stakes: If caught, Doug will end up in jail for life like his father.

Sequence 3

(39:30) Jim sees Doug with Claire at the café.

(45) Doug visits his Dad in prison and learns his mom was “no saint.”

(50) Doug sleeps with Claire.

Sequence 4

Midpoint: (59:45) Doug is arrested at work.

(61) Doug learns his dad was “sliced up the back” (raped, killed?) in jail.

(62) Doug learns they got a print off the van used in their last big robbery.

Sequence 5

False sense of security: (66:40) Doug tells Claire that he wants to change and go away and asks if she will go with him. She says yes.

Sequence 6

(76:00) The Florist threatens to kill Claire if Doug doesn’t do the last big job. Doug runs to Claire and she knows about him and never wants to see him again. The FBI told her.

(78:15) Doug tells Florist he’ll do it but if anything happens to Claire he’ll kill them.

Act Three

New Goal:  The stadium robbery in order to settle a score and to protect Claire.

Sequence 7

(1:47:50) After the rest of the team is killed in the stadium robbery, Jim is shot dead by the FBI on the street. Doug walks away with the money.

(1:48:50sec) Doug goes in and kills the Florist and his right-hand man.

Sequence 8

(1:52) Claire warns Doug on the phone not to come over (subtext: protecting him from FBI), giving him hope for a future with Claire.

(1:56:50) Claire finds the heist loot and a tangerine in the public garden she tends. She uses the money to buy the rink (and provide ice) for the kids to skate. See image of Doug in Tangerine, FL, having finally gotten out of Charlestown.