This week we’re analyzing the 2007 movie Hot Fuzz, screenplay by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, and directed by Edgar Wright.
You can find the movie via Amazon.
Here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia:
Police Constable Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), a high-achieving member of the Metropolitan Police Service, is transferred to the village of Sandford, Gloucestershire for making his colleagues look bad by comparison. Sandford is a crime-free idyll, a regular winner of “Village of the Year” awards, watched over by the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance (NWA). To Angel’s frustration, the local police service is lazy and complacent. His new partner is Danny Butterman (Nick Frost), son of Inspector Frank Butterman, who constantly discusses his love for action and buddy cop films.
After a local theatre performance of Romeo and Juliet, the actors in the lead roles, suspected of engaging in an affair, are murdered by a cloaked figure. Angel suspects foul play, but everyone else passes it off as an accident. When Angel is called to resolve a neighborhood dispute, he discovers a stash of unlicensed firearms and an old naval mine in an elderly man’s shed. Angel confiscates the stash in the police department’s evidence room.
Drinking in the village pub, Danny and Angel meet Simon Skinner, manager of the local supermarket, and George Merchant, a wealthy drunkard who made his fortune selling kitchen goods. Danny takes Angel home and the two binge-watch action movies. That evening, an unseen figure causes a gas explosion that destroys Merchant’s mansion, killing him. The incident is deemed an accident and Angel is ridiculed for believing otherwise.
At the local fair, Tim Messenger, editor of the Sandford Citizen, approaches Angel, claiming to have information regarding Merchant. A robed figure topples a severed church spire onto Messenger, killing him. Angel persuades Frank that the incident was murder and discovers a link between the victims in the Sandford Citizen.
Leslie Tiller, the village florist, tells Angel she intends to sell her shop and move to the city. While Angel is distracted, Tiller is murdered by a cloaked figure. Angel gives chase but loses the killer. Angel accuses Skinner of the murders, but his alibi is backed up by video footage. Angel theorises they may be multiple killers, but Frank shoots down the idea.
As Angel returns home, he is attacked by Michael Armstrong, one of Skinner’s supermarket employees. Angel subdues Armstrong and follows clues that lead him to a secret NWA meeting. Angel confronts the NWA and tries to arrest them. The group reveals that they kill residents who threaten Sandford’s chances of winning the “Village of the Year” award. After Frank reveals himself as one of them, Angel flees and discovers the bodies of the NWA’s many victims. As the NWA corners Angel, Danny appears and fakes Angel’s murder. Pretending to dispose of the body, Danny helps Angel escape the NWA; he begs him to leave the village for his own safety.
At a petrol station, Angel is inspired by the movies he watched with Danny, and returns to Sandford. He arms himself with the confiscated guns and reunites with Danny. The pair engage in shootouts with the NWA, then besiege the supermarket with the rest of the police, forcing Skinner to flee with Inspector Butterman. After a car chase that ends in a model village of Sandford itself, Skinner and Frank are arrested.
Angel’s former superiors beg him to return to London, as the crime rate has risen in his absence, but Angel remains in Sandford. As the officers process the paperwork, Tom Weaver, the last NWA member, attempts to kill Angel. Danny takes a bullet for Angel, and in the process Weaver accidentally activates the confiscated naval mine, destroying the station and killing him. One year later, Angel and Danny are in charge of the Sandford Police as Inspector and Sergeant, respectively.
The Six Core Questions +Bonus
1. What’s the Global Genre? Thriller
Hot Fuzz’s Global Genre is either Serial Killer Thriller or Labyrinth or Conspiracy Action depending on your take on the story’s events. The Global Value is Life/Death in either case, with a range of Life to Unconsciousness to Death to Fate Worse than Death.
- Leslie disagreed with the conclusion that the Global Genre is Thriller for a few reasons.There is no Inciting Crime by the Villain apparent in the Beginning Hook. Although there were murders committed by the Villain during that time, they don’t occur “onstage,” which is typical for the Global Genre. The Inciting Incident for this story is Angel being sent away from the London Met to Sandford, which for him represented a maze-like edifice where his professionalism didn’t bring him success. Finally, as editors, it’s important to look to the writers’ intent. Interviews with Pegg and Wright show they intended to write an Action story focused on Crime because the UK is one place that doesn’t have this type of movie. Although there are nods to a wide variety of movies (Thriller, Westerns, and Love Stories), the focus on Bad Boys II and Point Break as Danny’s favorite movies weighs in favor of Action being the main event.
2. What are the Obligatory Scenes and Conventions?
Obligatory Scenes for a Thriller include the following:
- An Inciting Crime Indicative of a Master Villain: There must be victims. The first murder doesn’t take place on screen on 38:00, but other murders have already taken place off screen.
- A Speech in Praise of the Villain: A scene must have a speech by one or more characters or a revelation that praises the cunning/brilliance of the villain. Sanford is the best village,
- The Hero/Protagonist Becomes the Victim: This scene reveals that the villain makes his crimes personal, and the Hero becomes the primary victim: The Neighborhood Watch Alliance sends “Larp” guy to kill him … then the NWA chases him down, until Danny “stabs” him in the chest and drives him out of town.
- Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene: This is the Core event of the thriller, the moment when the Hero unleashes his gift when all is lost. This is the “showdown” scene at the end when Angel rides into town loaded up with guns, one man vs. the NWA.
- False Ending: There must be two endings. (1) Catches Inspector and Skinner and everything feels all wrapped up and the final member of the NWA (the guy who watched the CCTV screen) comes in with a gun and tries to shoot Angel, but Danny takes the bullet for him / the mine goes off.
Obligatory Scenes for an Action Story include the following [Leslie]:
- An Inciting Attack by the Villain or Environment: The Labyrinth plot is incited when Angels superiors and peers grow tired of his making them look bad, and he is sent to Sandford, a place that is foreign to him and where the other police officers behave in ways that don’t make sense.
- Hero Sidesteps Responsibility to Take Action: Instead of adapting to the environment, Angel continues to try to act in a professional manner in executing his police duties.
- Forced to Leave Ordinary World, the Hero Lashes Out: No one believes Angel when he says that the florist/gardener is killed. He freaks out and goes to the grocery store to accuse/arrest Skinner.
- Discovering and Understanding the Antagonist’s MacGuffin Scene: In the scene at the castle where Angel finds the NWA with cloaks on, he hears them chanting “Bonum Commune Communitatis” or for the good of the community. Then Inspector Butterman arrives and talks about how his wife wanted to win the Best Village Award and that on her death, the NWA had picked up the baton.
- Hero’s Initial Strategy to Outmaneuver Villain Fails. There are lots of examples of this, but the key one is when his professionalism and investigative skills (that he relied on at the Met) won’t work against Skinner, and he’s embarrassed in front of Butterman and his peers.
- All Is Lost Moment: Hero realizes he must change his approach to salvage some form of victory. Angel’s attempts to use his lawful authority as a police officer to arrest the NWA have failed. Danny helps him escape and lets Angel have his car to leave Sandford. There’s no point in trying to defeat the Villain. Danny says, “It’s Sanford. There’s nothing you can do,”
- The Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene: The Core event of the Action story, this is the moment when the hero’s gift is expressed. This is the showdown in the village square where, although he is well armed, Angel faces multiple similarly armed foes.
- The Hero’s Sacrifice Is Rewarded Scene: Angel experiences three levels of reward. The Met have realized his value and want him back (extrapersonal). He has a buddy/best friend/partner relationship with Danny as Inspector and Sergeant of the Sandford Police Service (intrapersonal). Angel has learned that he can care about someone more than his work (interpersonal).
Conventions for Thriller and Action Stories
Conventions for a Thriller include the following:
- MacGuffin: The Villain wants the Best Village Award
- Red Herrings: The murders are set up to look like accidents, and even when Angel is convinced that the deaths are murders, it appears that Simon Skinner is the sole perpetrator.
- Making It Personal: The questions Angel is asking about the deaths threatens the Best Village Award contest, and so they Butterman and the NWA need to neutralize him.
- Clock: The panel for the Best Village Award are in Sandford, so Butterman and the NWA need to “hold out” the idyllic image until they’ve clinched the award.
Conventions for the Action Story include the following:
- Hero, Victim. Villain: Nick Angel, the Village of Sandford, Inspector Butterman and the NWA.
- Hero’s Object of Desire: Save the Victim and Escape the Labyrinth/Defeat the Villain
- The Power Divide between the Hero and Villain is Large: Villain is anonymous, knows the town and the people and can sneak up on them, and Angel’s usual strategy, his professionalism has no impact on the Villain.
- Speech in Praise of the Villain: Danny tells Angel, “It’s Sanford. There’s nothing you can do,” and “Who will the higher authorities believe, some loony from London or the Inspector?”
- Specific Conventions for the Sub-Genre: The Labyrinth plot requires a maze-like edifice, which is the Village itself with its relationships and inner workings. The Hero’s Object of Desire is to save the victim and escape the labyrinth.
- But check the cheat sheets for the Courtship Love Story and Western, and you’ll see that this story meets all or most of the OS&C for those genres as well.
3. What is the POV? What is the Narrative device?
In Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman (recommended by Steven Pressfield), the author explains that in a film, the POV follows the camera, even though we can get clues about what the character is thinking/feeling, but that is the benefit of written form.
Kim: For the most part, we’re following Angel, but at about 38 minutes in, the viewer gets moments of dramatic irony when we see the villain.
4. What are the Objects of Desire, in other words, wants and needs?
Wants: Justice, to be great at his job, to solve the mystery, and save the victims
Needs: To find meaning/connection with others, to have a life outside of work
- Nicholas Angel has meaning in his life at the beginning—being great at his job and focused pursuit of justice—but it’s at the expense of all his personal relationships. And he knows it. (You were already married to the job, it’s all you care about. You can’t switch off Nicholas, until you find a person you care about more than your job, you never will.)
- The fact that he understands the problem (just now how to fix it) makes this feel more like Education rather than Maturation Plot. He learns how to make connections—his life finds new meaning—not by caring less about his job/justice, but by finding someone else to share that with—his friend Danny, and also the rest of squad. He goes from being an outcast to being accepted, becoming a mentor to others, and getting to share his love for his job/justice. And Danny helps him find a life outside of work—at the pub and watching movies. But ultimately the fact that they can SHARE the love of the work/justice is what gives their lives connection and meaning. In the beginning, he thinks that to find connection with others he has to care less about his job, but he only needs to find someone who understands him, doesn’t require him to be less, celebrates him, who would share his intensity and be someone he could teach. Life has meaning when you connect with others that share your passions.
5. What Is the Controlling Idea / Theme?
Life triumphs when we put the community’s needs ahead of our own.
Note: This is based on my interpretation of Hot Fuzz as a Serial Killer Thriller (global content genre), Farce Comedy (style genre) in which the global value at stake is Life/Death.
Note: Shawn’s definition of theme/controlling idea is: global value + cause = controlling idea/theme
Steven Pressfield has a blog series on theme (published February – May 2016) that I highly recommend. He talks about what theme is and how it informs a story. He says that a theme gives us the climax, the villains, the point of view, the hero, the title, the inciting incident and the supporting cast of characters. (Blog series starts here: http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2016/02/what-is-your-novel-about/)
Taking Shawn’s and Steven’s ideas into account, I think the theme of Hot Fuzz is: Life triumphs when we put the needs of the community ahead of our own needs. Note, in the first 5 minutes of the movie, Janine tells Nicholas that he won’t really live until he finds a person he cares about more than his job. That person is Danny Butterman, and then by extension, the village of Sandford.
- Hero: Nicholas Angel starts as an outsider—his only companionship is a Japanese Peace Lily. He’s a man focused solely on his job to the detriment of his personal relationships. He isn’t even aware that he’s putting his own needs (career objectives) ahead of the needs of his girlfriend and fellow police officers (their need to not look bad). He ends the story as an insider, with a best friend/partner and is a valued member of the Sandford community.
- Villain: Inspector Frank Butterman is the head of a group of villagers who have sworn to “make Sandford great again,” no matter the cost. He puts his own needs/wants (to honor his wife’s memory) ahead of all else, even the lives of others. This is a community as a cult.
- Title: (I’m stretching here!) Fuzz = police. A police force is a brotherhood, it’s a tight-knit community that works best when everyone follows the rules and looks out for one another. A rogue cop is a bad thing. When something is “hot” it’s really working well. Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman do not present to their worlds as typical officers, and so referring to them as “the fuzz” is appropriate. And they’re “hot” when they’re working together as a team—when they, as outsiders in their respective communities, have formed their own community. [Leslie’s note: The Wikipedia post cites an interview in which Wright said they were following the convention of two-word titles for action films of the 1980s and 1990s.]
- Supporting Cast of Characters: The supporting characters form two groups: the police department in London, and the villagers in Sandford. In London, the officers, sergeant, inspector, and chief inspector are all putting their own needs ahead of the community. They want Nicholas gone because he makes them look bad. In Sandford, Frank Butterman and the other community members want certain people gone because they make Sandford look bad (the human statue, the teenagers with hoodies etc.).
- Specific moments when the theme is expressed:
- Inciting Incident: Nicholas is exiled from the community.
- Climax: Nicholas and Danny fight for their community
- Point of View: POV of the outsider—Nicholas. (This would be a very different story if told from the insiders’ POV—Butterman/villagers or the MET Officers.
6. What is the Beginning Hook, Middle Build, Ending Payoff?
Inciting incident: Nicholas Angel’s superiors force him to accept a transfer to the remote village of Sandford. There, he carries on alienating the entire community with his moral absolutism.
Complications begin as the unprofessionalism of his new colleagues starts to drive him nuts. The final complication is Angel letting his annoyance compromise his professional integrity during a call from a citizen who wants to report a missing swan. He recovers his dignity—barely—by trying to take the swan incident seriously.
The crisis comes when he’s chasing after a shoplifter a little later, and spots the escaped swan. He has to choose between following up on the rather stupid swan incident that has precedence, or apprehending a real criminal, the shoplifter.
His decision to pursue the real criminal is the climax
The negative resolution is that Skinner, the shop owner who was victimized, refuses to press charges. Once again, the village doesn’t seem to value justice as Nicholas Angel does.
While on a routine speed trap, Angel and Danny cite a man for speeding. The inciting incident of the middle build is when that man and his girlfriend are found horribly murdered. Everyone calls it an accident.
Complications: Three increasingly horrific murders follow, which the other officers, with increasing stupidity, insist on calling accidents. Angel develops a theory and confronts Skinner, the grocery-store owner he suspects as the murderer, but Skinner skates off, alibi’ed by security footage.
The final complication comes when the black-hooded murderer attacks Angel in his hotel room. It’s Skinner’s henchman, and over his walkie-talkie, Angel learns that Skinner truly did arrange to have him killed. The hero has become the personal target of the villain.
When Angel discovers that the murders are actually a conspiracy of all the village council members, wearing black hooded robes and chanting in Latin, his crisis choice is to confront them or save himself.
True to his absolute ethics, he chooses to confront them, and tries to arrest them all, only to have Inspector Butterman reveal himself as the lead conspirator. His son Danny is with him. Angel runs, but can’t get away.
In the All is Lost Moment Angel is at the mercy of the villains, and his only friend, Danny, betrays him, stabbing him in the shoulder.
Resolution: The betrayal turns out to be a rescue, the stabbing faked. Danny gives Angel his car, and Angel drives off, escaping alone along a dark highway.
Inciting Incident: Angel sees Danny’s two favorite American cop movie DVDs at the highway convenience store, which activates his rage (infensus ex machina, or the Popeye moment), and he decides to return to Sandford and go on the offensive.
Together with his fellow cops, who now respect him in his rage, he takes out most of the conspirators in a series of gun battles, each with myriad complications. The final complication comes when Angel, having dispatched what seems to be one last conspirator, turns to find Butterman, Danny’s father, holding Danny at gunpoint. Angel either has to let justice go to get Danny freed, or see call Butterman’s bluff risking Danny’s life.
In the climax, Danny struggles away, but can’t bring himself to fire on his own father. Butterman tries to flee in a car, but the swan, symbolizing the Macguffin (which is the village itself), causes him to crash into a tree.
The Resolution has a cliche ending, a horror/thriller false ending, and an epilogue.
In the aftermath of the big fight, ambulances and police cars are drawn up, while Angel’s London supervisors arrive and beg him to come back, which he refuses. Then we get closure by seeing all the injured conspirators posing for mugshots while all the cops harmoniously fill out paperwork and laugh together, with Angel having become one of the gang. This is the false ending, because…
In walks the one conspirator we’ve forgotten about, aiming a shotgun at Angel. Danny leaps in front of Angel, sacrificing himself in a Proof of Love moment, and thanks to his action, the last conspirator is taken out by an enormous plot device.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE. The final, final ending–the Epilogue–is One Year Later, when we discover that Danny has survived, Angel has stayed on, and they are still happily, and excessively, enforcing the law in the perfect English village of Sandford.
7. Bonus Question: Good Examples?
Special Scene Types, Outstanding Tropes, clear tie-ins to other genres, etc.?
- Anne said that this movie is packed with tropes and standard scenes from various genres, all of them masterfully done for humor. “I think if I had to pick out one single reason for any writer or editor to study this film, it would be to simply count and admire the dozens of setups and payoffs, from the escaped swan to the sea mine to the ketchup packet and the cop’s notepad. Some of them become pretty obvious on a second watch, but all of them are well-enough embedded, and the action engaging enough, that they don’t stick out, and every one of them pays off in brilliantly unexpected and hilarious ways.”
- Anne mentioned Leslie’s research into the Infensus ex Machina (aka Popeye Moment) in which the Hero defeats the Villain in the Hero at the Mercy of the Villain Scene by becoming angry. Bassim El Wakil talks about how this doesn’t work unless the Hero sacrifices something (otherwise, the Hero could get angry sooner and avoid the confrontation altogether). It works in Hot Fuzz because Angel sacrifices his professionalism.
- Valerie noted that this is a great example of how a writer can innovate/change up the content genres by choosing from the other four leaves of the Story Grid Genre Clover. Serial Killer thrillers are usually paired with Drama, but in Hot Fuzz, it’s paired with Comedy (Farce) and is a completely different story experience.
- Anne reminded us not to forget that one of the great charms of the movie is that it also hits several of the obligatory scenes and conventions of the Courtship Love story, holding the Brotherhood line, but walking right up to the edge of romantic comedy. It gives nods to the Western genre, too.
Kim explained that Hit Fuzz is cited as a good example of visual comedy. Every Frame A Painting (an amazing channel I highly recommend you subscribe to) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FOzD4Sfgag.