A suicidal mercenary sets out to rescue the girl he was hired to protect, the girl who gave him a reason to live, after she’s kidnapped for ransom.
Very interesting. I forget if it was here or on Reddit, but someone pointed out that Man on Fire is a good film to study in terms of logline since it essentially has two plots. The first half is him training to be a body guard, the second half is him attempting the rescue mission. It’s something I’ve been chewing over since FLA (a logline I posted, but am having trouble really polishing) also has a similar structure. In this, the logline focuses exclusively on the second half, which while I would agree that is what Man on Fire is about, it’s an interesting approach to loglining. (Full Disclosuer: I’ve never seen Man on Fire)
I think it is debatable whether “Man on Fire” is composed of two different plots. It depends on how one defines and applies the term “plot”.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle in his classic treatise on tragedy, “The Poetics”, established the first working definition of “plot”, a definition that has prevailed. Aristotle defined a plot in terms of a unity of action (not of character). Of one action, “the structural union of the parts being such that, if any one of them is displaced or removed, the whose will be disjointed and disturbed.” (Chapter 8)
And then we have the dramatic principle of “Chekhov’s gun”, named after Anton Chekhov, the great Russian dramatist. Chekhov wrote that if you introduce a gun in the 1st Act of your play, it’s got to be fired in the 2nd Act. If you introduce a potential threat in the 1st half, you have to deliver on it in the 2nd half.
“Man on Fire” opens with a title card about the plague of kidnappings for ransom in Mexico and then dramatizes it with a specific incident. Having planted the “gun” of kidnapping in the 1st Act, (which is why the protagonist has been hired), the film must fire it in the 2nd.
Which it does: the girl is kidnapped. The protagonist has failed to achieve his objective goal, to protect the girl. End of that plot, right?
Well, maybe not. This is not the forum to go into the weeds. Suffice it to say that based upon my reading of “The Poetics”, the unity of action in “Man on Fire” is the ongoing threat of kidnappings for ransom. The unity of action is provided by the bad guys, not the good guy.
I submit that if one defines “unity of action” narrowly, solely in terms of whether the protagonist succeeds in achieving his initial objective goal, than logically it leads to a disjunctive conclusion that subverts the meaning of the term.
It’s a good point to reflect the emotions, which can also be expressed as a logline being accurate to the story.
If it didn’t exist and I came up with the idea, a logline for craft could be:
In Mexico, a former mercenary sees hope for redemption thanks to the businessman’s daughter he bodyguards- and then, after she’s killed in a botched kidnapping, brings harsh justice to those responsible.
At the Midpoint or within the few minutes before the second half of Act II starts at 60, the audience and characters believe the girl died.
IIRC, redemption is the theme or character’s arc and unifying factor…which implies the ending as he finds the ultimate redemption by giving up his life for the girl (after learning late in Act II that she’s still alive).
I agree that redemption is the theme in this movie. The theme is planted in the 6th minute of the film when the main character, John Creasy, a troubled man, troubled about his past, asks “Do you think God will ever forgive us for what we’ve done?”
That said, loglines are about objective goals, not subjective needs. Objective goals are a concrete problem a character intentionally struggles to solve. Solutions to subjective needs are never intentionally sought. In Act 1, the protagonist still has all his defense mechanisms up; he cannot admit he has a subjective problem, Or if he (reluctantly) admits he does, he’s discounts its gravity and at best is only coping with the problem, not solving it.
Solutions to subjective issues are unintentionally arrived at in the course of working out the objective problem. As events play out, the ultimate solution to Creasy’s subjective problem, the answer to the thematic question raised in the 6th minute, is to sacrifice his life to save hers. That is not a solution he would have accepted in Act 1. (Because he had not become emotionally bonded to the girl.) Nor, I think, immediately after the midpoint. He knows his life is at risk, but he intends to save her if he can, wreak revenge no matter what. And stay alive.
So in a logline the subjective need and the implied character arc is stated in terms of a character flaw. In this case he’s suicidal. A symptom of that is excessive drinking.
My favorite definition of a plot is “a conspiracy against the protagonist”. And that is certainly the case here. The plot conspires so that the only way he can save the girl is to sacrifice his life.