Movie: Directed by Christopher Nolan

Inciting Event: After arriving in Alaska, viewing the murder victim’s corpse, and making plans to confront her boyfriend at school the next day, the protagonist Will reacts angrily when his partner Hap tells him he’s going to make a plea-bargain with a hungry Internal Affairs officer back home. Will, a clean cop, believes this opens the door for his own actions to be questions and some of the murderers he’s put away to be released.

The true storyline in this movie isn’t the murdered girl, but rather Will’s dilemma regarding the IA back home. This scene is what clearly brings that conflict into view for the first time.

First Plot Point: While pursuing the murderer on a foggy creek bank, Will accidentally shoots and kills Hap. He tells no one, allowing everyone, including eager rookie cop Ellie, to believe Hap was shot by the murderer. He knows that if the truth gets out, he will have given IA more than enough rope to hang him. Now, he is fully embroiled in a web of deceit, even as he digs deeper and deeper into the murder.

First Pinch Point: Unable to sleep in the midnight sun of Alaska’s summer nights, Will receives a middle-of-the-night call from the murderer—who tells him he knows Will shot his partner. He says he and Will are “in this together now.”

When Ellie comes to Will with her report about Hap’s death, writing it off as the work of the murderer, Will is unable to allow her to compromise her integrity. He tells her to re-check her tracks—even as he covers his own by using the murderer’s abandoned revolver to manipulate the ballistics on Hap’s gunshot wound.

Midpoint: Will deduces that the killer is a man named Walter, the writer of a mystery novel found in the victim’s purse. Without telling the other detectives, he tracks Walter to his house and then chases him to a river. He tries to pursue him across a logjam, only to nearly drown.

This moment—the sighting of the murderer—completely changes the tenor of the story. Now Will has made contact.

Second Pinch Point: Will agrees to meet Walter secretly. Walter tells Will that he’s come up with a plan to set up the victim’s abusive boyfriend. He keeps insisting—obviously delusional—that the murder was an accident. Will goes along, loathing Walter, but feeling trapped for the moment. After Walter exits the ferry, he shows Will that he recorded the entire incriminating conversation—preventing Will from being able to tell his side of the story to the other detectives.

Third Plot Point: When Walter is called in for questioning, he neatly pins suspicion on the boyfriend—despite Will’s attempts to steer the detectives in the right direction. Walter reveals to Will that he planted the murder weapon in the boyfriend’s room. Will rushes to the boyfriend’s house to try to find the gun, but is too late: the police find the gun and arrest the wrong man.

Climax: After yet another sleepless night, Will realizes Walter is going to kill Ellie. He rushes to stop him. Ellie accuses Walter of having murdered his partner. A gunfight ensues, in which Will kills Walter.

Climactic Moment: Walter tells a tearful Ellie not to throw away the evidence of his having shot his partner. He tells her not to “lose her way,” then dies of his own gunshot wound.

Resolution: None to speak of.

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s monthly e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.