The Blake Snyder “Beat Sheet” (aka BS2) for: The Road to Perdition
Director: Sam Mendes
I consider myself a student of the Blake Snyder school of thought at this point, so here goes another attempt at a “beat sheet.” As usual, I am going to spoil this movie for those that haven’t seen it, so stop here if you wish the see the film without knowing the plot.
Opening Image – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
The film begins on a calm, white beach. A boy is standing looking out to sea , wearing suspenders, knickers, and he tells us this is going to be the story of a journey. It is white, very white. Almost innocent.
Set-up – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
The boy delivers papers, it is winter and about the 30s in the U.S., the Great Depression era, the boy’s father is mysterious. The boy is scared of his father. Mother is loving, the house feels wholesome, and the boy’s brother is like a friend. Also innocent.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
There are multiple themes to this film. Hopefully we can address them all. One theme of this film is respect to tradition and elders. This can be seen through the relationship the boy has with his father. Another theme is people may not be who they appear to be. Deception. Although it may not be apparent now, this theme surfaces many times throughout the film.
Catalyst – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Michael (the boy) watches his father commit murder. This is when he realizes what his father does for a living, why they live in the house they do. This is where life as it is changes. Life changes for Michael, who is noticeably distraught by this sight. And life changes for the father who now must protect his boy from the men who employ him.
Debate – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
The father’s boss knows Michael is a liability so he must decide whether or not to kill the boy. He asks Michael to keep a secret and further intimidates the boy by saying a man of honor always pays his debts and keeps his word.
Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
The father kills an accomplice to the operation and he and his son plan to escape town and head to Chicago to seek help after the murder of his wife and kids. As per Snyder, “the journey begins.”
B Story – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
The most prominent “b-story” of this film is the prospect of the hunter becoming the hunted. The father and the boy are being tracked down by an expert assassin played by Jude Law. How will survive? That is the only question.
The Promise of the Premise – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Michael and his father make it to the city. They seek help from a former employer, however, he is unwilling to help and now the two are left to fend for themselves. The father reaches out to family for refuge, and then he and Michael start their “Road to Perdition.” Wherever that may be?
We have reached the midpoint of the story now and I’m going to stop here in hopes that you finish the film on your own because it is one of my favorites. Take luck, and enjoy.