I once read with some interest the notion of a "17 minute rule" in screenwriting. Essentially 17 minutes in to a film ACT I draws to a close with a key moment that defines the protagonist's true goal.
Last night I watched Battle: Los Angeles. A very average action film with some nice moments. I watched it as an escape but also for its classic Hollywood structure. It tells the story of aliens invading Earth in search of our resources. Viscious they are too. Wiping out entire cities in their quest to colonise our planet and rid it of mankind in the process. Of course the last remaining city of note is in America and Los Angeles' sun-drenched and pale stone clad buildings create the perfect backdrop for a story of heavy conflict. At times the marines could just as easily have been in Afghanistan. A point not wasted by the scriptwriters.
I digress. The story within the story is of one Michael Nantz, played well enough by Aaron Eckhart, a Staff Seargant with the US Marines who is about to retire. But then of course the aliens come and he is required for one last tour of duty. Trouble is his last tour was anything but glowing. Accused of leaving his fellow soldiers for dead Nantz is frowned upon by the company he joins. Worst still one of the company is brother to one of Nantz's abandoned marines. Bang on 17 minutes in to the film said marine confronts Nantz with this fact. Something along the lines of "you got your silver star and my bro came home in a body bag."
From this point forward Nantz is no longer the hero out of retirement. He has a tarnished past. His direction through the rest of the story is one of righting such wrongs. Better yet he takes his orders from a young man "straight from boot camp". There is no tension. In fact Nantz appears to relish in waiting on the young Lieutenant's orders.
As the film progresses we see that the young commander is in some way a little out of his depth. Brave and gutsy but not entirely an action-oriented leader. Nantz of course is.
As an exercise in observing Hollywood structure Battle: Los Angeles was fun. As a film it was OK. In terms of actually seeing that 17th minute model in action it was really rather rewarding.