Movie: Directed by Edward Zwick.
Inciting Event: Union officer Robert Gould Shaw is offered command of the Massachusetts 54th, the first all-black infantry regiment.
Note how the plot beat includes his refusal of the Call to Adventure—however briefly. This is reinforced by his friend Forbes’s initial insistence that he would be insane to take the commission. The moment is brief, as Shaw quickly overcomes his doubts, but the emotional beat is important to the pacing and the resonance of the scene.
First Plot Point: This is the weakest structural point in the entire movie. There is no clear departure from First to Second Act. The characters clearly enter the “adventure world” of the main conflict when the volunteers are formed into a regiment. But this occurs immediately on the heels of the Inciting Event. After that, there is no clear delineation of the characters engaging to any distinct further degree with the conflict.
The only moment at approximately the correct timing for the First Plot Point is the Confederate proclamation that all conquered black troops will be either returned to slavery or executed. This clearly presents the stakes (although they are never paid off within the story), but at best it is more of a pinch than anything and does not turn the plot.
First Pinch Point: After mouthy recruit Trip is caught deserting, Shaw reluctantly orders him to be flogged. He later learns Trip was only out looking for a decent pair of shoes to assuage his raw feet. This leads Shaw to a new understanding of his men and his own place as their leader. He storms the quartermaster and forcibly requisitions the shoes.
Midpoint: After a nice Moment of Truth, in which Shaw refuses his pay until his men are also paid their full promised salaries, the regiment is finally deployed to the South, marking a clear change of focus and a move into frontal action in the second half of the story.
Second Pinch Point: The regiment is finally allowed to fight in its first battle—showing them the ugly face of war for the first time. Shaw’s good friend Thomas is badly wounded but refuses to be sent to the hospital.
Third Plot Point: When faced with an extremely dangerous assault on a Confederate fort, Shaw proudly volunteers his regiment to lead the charge. He knows it is a suicide mission, but he also knows his troop is capable of and willing to prove themselves. Still, the heaviness of death marks this as an emotional low moment in the story, as everyone prepares for the lethal battle to come.
Climax: At dusk the next day, they charge the fort under a withering hail of fire.
Climactic Moment: Shaw is killed leading the charge, and loner Trip catches the fallen colors he earlier refused to carry and rallies the regiment, before also being shot to death.
Resolution: The regiment fails to take the fort but distinguishes itself gloriously.