The movie starts off showing Clyde Sheldon (Gerard Butler) working in his home and his daughter next to him making bracelets out of letter cubes. She’s made one for Clyde with “Daddy” on it. Someone knocks on the door and when Clyde opens it, Darby and Ames knock him down. Darby and Ames proceed to tie Clyde and his wife up, and Darby stabs them both and rapes Clyde’s wife as Clyde watches hopelessly. As Clyde is struggling, Darby tells him “you can’t fight fate”. His wife dies and just before Clyde passes out, he sees Darby going after his daughter.
At the Philadelphia courthouse, we see Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) talking with his boss about Nick’s high conviction rate (96%). The District Attorney, Jonas Cantrell (Bruce McGill) then meets with Nick to discuss the Sheldon murder case. Nick, who represents Clyde, says he is going to take a deal with the defense whereby Darby will provide testimony to convict Ames to death row in order to receive third-degree murder charges (which amounts to about 5 years jail time).
When Nick reveals the deal to Clyde, Clyde becomes very angry at the faulty justice system, which let his wife and daughter’s murderers off the hook. After the deal is made, Nick addresses the media outside the courthouse. When he is finished, Darby walks over and shakes Nick’s hand, thanking him for going along with the justice system (essentially letting Darby off easy). A photographer takes a picture of Nick and Darby, and Nick becomes slightly disturbed by all of this. Down the street, Clyde watches the press conference end and walks away.
Ten years later, Nick is very successful and become the Assistant DA. He is about to leave for work when his wife asks him if he will be attending their daughter’s cello concert. He says he is not able to make it because he has to work that night, but that the whole family can sit down together and watch the taped DVD of the concert when it arrives. That day, Nick and his colleague Sarah attend Ames’s execution by lethal injection. At the execution, Ames says he’s sorry for what he has done, but states that he did not kill Clyde’s wife and daughter. As the execution begins, we see the canisters of chemicals being injected to Ames. When the final canister is administered, Ames reacts to the chemical and jerks about in severe pain. Witnesses of the execution are visibly disturbed, as he dies a painful death. The city officials want to know what went wrong with the injection, as it was supposed to be painless. When they inspected the final chemical canister, they saw the words “can’t fight fate,” scratched into the side.
Nick ties this to Clyde’s case and goes after Darby. As the police go arrest Darby, Darby receives a call from an unknown caller. The person on the other end of the line uses a voice scrambler and tells him that the cops are coming after him, and that he needs to leave the apartment right away. When Darby sees the police outside his apartment, he leaves on rooftop while being guided by the unknown caller. The unknown caller tells him to go to an old factory, where there is a police car parked outside with a police who is asleep at the wheel. Darby finds the police car and gets in, he takes the cops gun and forces the cop to drive. When they get to a safe place, Darby and the cop get out. As Darby is about to kill the cop, he gets a call from the unknown caller. As he is talking on the phone, he realizes the caller is the cop he is about to kill, who is actually Clyde. As Clyde confronts Darby, Darby pulls the trigger on the gun but becomes paralyzed. The gun had toxin that was injected into Darby’s hand when he pulled the trigger. Clyde tells him the toxin will only paralyze him, but he will be able to feel everything, and that he is about to experience a world of pain. Clyde drags Darby to an old warehouse, where he proceeds to inject him with adrenaline to keep him awake and from passing out. He then proceeds to gruesomely kill Darby as he videotapes the whole thing.
The next day, Nick is at work looking into how to find Darby, when he gets a call saying Darby was found. When Nick learned of the details of Darby’s death, he and the police go to arrest Clyde. Clyde expected the cops to come after him and turns himself in without fighting. Meanwhile, at Nick’s house, they receive a package with a DVD. Thinking it’s the taped DVD of the concert, Nick’s daughter plays it and is horrified to see that it’s the taped killing of Darby. Nick interrogates Clyde looking for a confession. However, Clyde is very careful with his words so as not to give Nick any solid confession. Clyde then proposes a deal: he will give Nick a confession of the crime if they bring him a nice therapeutic mattress. Nick refuses at first, but when pressed on by Jonas, he gives in. As his new mattress is delivered, his cellmate and the other prisoners are visibly upset for the unfair treatment.
At Clyde’s arraignment hearing, Nick tries to persuade Judge Laura Burch (the same judge who presided over Clyde’s families murder hearing 10 years ago when Darby’s deal was taken) not to give Clyde bail. Clyde, having decided to represent himself, goes on to explain that the prosecution has not provided any evidence to prove that he is the killer, thus bail should be granted (he has been studying law for the last 10 years in preparation for this and he has not yet given Nick the confession he promised). The judge is convinced, and just as she is about to grant Clyde bail, Clyde goes on a rant where he explains this is exactly what is wrong with the justice system. That the “system” is about to let a probable killer bail out because there is no “admissible evidence”. He proceeds to insult the judge and the “system” and the judge holds him in contempt.
Sometime along here, Nick and Sarah look into Clyde’s financials and properties. Sarah has a source named “Chester” who provides them with intel and they find out that Clyde is a talented engineer who made quite a lot of money and has purchased a lot of property around Philadelphia (including the warehouse where Darby was killed) under the umbrella of a Panamanian corporation. However, they are not able to find out exactly where each property is located due to Panamanian law.
Nick goes to see Clyde in jail. Clyde tells him that all of this is brought on because justice was not served the day Nick took the deal that let the killers of his wife and daughter off the hook easy, and that he is taking matters into his own hand. He confessed that he switched the chemicals for Ames’s execution that led to his painful death. Clyde proceeds to offer another deal with Nick with a 1 pm deadline: in exchange for a nice meal of steak, pasta, and asparagus (with an iPod too, since he likes music when he eats), he will give Nick the opportunity to save Bill Reynolds, who was Darby’s defense attorney 10 years ago. Knowing that Clyde is serious, they rush to get the food in. However, the warden delays the food from being delivered to Clyde by dragging out the safety inspection. The food arrives 8 minutes late, and as Clyde begins to eat, he tells Nick the location of Bill, and tells him to hurry before it is too late.
When Nick gets to Bill’s location, they discover that he is buried in the ground with an oxygen mask over his face. The oxygen supply ran out at 1:15 pm and they arrived a few minutes too late. Nick realized that if they got the food to Clyde on time, they could have saved Bill. Meanwhile, Clyde’s cellmate threatens Clyde to give him some food otherwise he’ll kill him. Clyde shares the food with him, secretly hiding the T-bone from the steak. As he distracts his cellmate with the iPod, Clyde proceeds to kill his cellmate with the T-bone. Security is alerted and Clyde is sent to solitary confinement. When Nick returns to the jail, he goes see Clyde. Clyde tells him that he killed his cellmate to prove how serious he was, and that Nick better start paying attention to his deadlines.
Nick and Jonas go see Judge Laura Burch, where they ask her to take away all of Clyde’s rights in prison (no exercise time, etc.) because of the threat that he poses. The judge agrees, when suddenly, her phone rings. As she picked up the phone, a bullet is shot from the phone, killing her. Nick goes back to see Clyde, at which point Clyde makes one last offer: release him by 6 am tomorrow morning, or he will kill everyone. Jonas and Nick are called into a meeting with the Mayor, where she demands them to straighten things out. They find out that Clyde used to work for the military, and they arranged a meeting with one of Clyde’s ex-colleagues, where they learn that Clyde was the brains for many of the military’s operations: he specialized in “killing people while not being in the same room.”
Nick asks Sarah and many other staff to move their operations to the prison, where they will be conducting their research overnight. When the 6am deadline comes, no deal is given to Clyde. Nick and his staff are tired, so Nick asks them to go home for a few hours to get some rest before resuming their work. As Sarah and the other staff go to their cars and leave, we see that that bombs that were planted in their car kill them all. Clyde is taken outside the prison gates, where Nick punches him and demands that he stop the killings. Clyde tells him that he should blame the justice system, which is why they are here in the first place. He then tells Nick that he will continue killing and turn the whole system on its head.
Nick and Jonas go to Sarah’s funeral, as they leave in their cars, we see a remote controlled mini-tank that carries a high-powered rifle and a missile launcher targeting them. As the cars leave, the tank disables all the electronics in the cars and stops them. As Nick watches from the car behind, the car in front carrying Jonas is riddled with bullets and blown apart by the missile. Nick is called into another meeting with the Mayor, where she temporarily swears him in as the new DA and issues a citywide lockdown to prevent more people from getting killed and calls a city-hall meeting to discuss this case.
Around this time, Nick gets a message from Sarah’s informant, “Chester”, with the exact dollar amounts of all of Clyde’s property purchases. Nick matches the numbers with public records and discovers that Clyde owns an old factory right next to the prison he is staying in right now. Nick goes to investigate and he discovers a secret tunnel from the factory that tunnels into every cell in solitary confinement in the prison. They also discover hidden stashes of fake uniforms and explosives. Clyde was able to go in and out of the prison as he pleased because of the tunnel. They find a clipboard that shows Clyde has been moonlighting as a janitor at city hall, and that he just went to start his shift.
At the city hall, Clyde gets in and taps into the security system and obtains a live video feed from the chamber where the Mayor’s meeting will take place. He also places a suitcase full of napalm in the room directly below the meeting chamber, knowing the napalm will be capable of blowing out the chamber above. After Clyde has left, Nick arrives at the city hall with the bomb squad and they inspect the bomb and find out it is armed by a cell phone call. Someone suggest that they evacuate the building but Nick rejects that as Clyde will know if they evacuate, at which point he will blow it up right away.
Clyde drives back to prison and proceeds back to his cell. When he gets back, he sees that Nick is in his cell. Nick tries to talk Clyde out of blowing the bomb, but Clyde insists on blowing it up. As he calls the cell phone to arm the bomb, Nick tells him that “you’ve brought this upon yourself” and leaves and locks the gate behind him. At the same time, another cop locks the door to the tunnel from the back. Clyde realized that they have moved the bomb to his cell, and he was locked in with it. Clyde accepts his fate and stares at the bracelet his daughter made for him as he is engulfed by flames.
The last scene shows Nick with his wife at his daughter’s cello concert.
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