The movie starts with the frightening statistic that there is one kidnapping every 60 minutes in Mexico. We then see, beneath the credits, a man late-twenties, married, young son getting kidnapped. We hear and see negotiations being carried out while the man is tortured. The father of the man is instructed to go somewhere and drive around with his shirt waving in the breeze. This is a signal. He will then take money placed in two bags to a car and put the bags in the trunk. He does this, and we then see the kidnapped person kneeling in the street next to an on-ramp with a blindfold over where his eyes would be.
Next, we see a man we know only as Rayburn (Christopher Walken) talking to an old friend of his, John W. Creasy (Denzel Washington).
Rayburn is trying to get Creasy to take a bodyguard job for a friend of his, Samuel Ramos (Marc Anthony). The job would basically consist of Creasy watching Ramos's daughter Lupida. We then go to see Ramos talking to his lawyer Jordan (Mickey Rourke), and they seem to be discussing the kidnappings. Ramos expresses worry for Pita, as she is called, but Jordan tells him not to worry.
Later, we see Ramos talking to Creasy and going over his impressive resume - sixteen years army, special missions, stuff like that. He tells Creasy that his wife would have to approve of Creasy. They go to Ramos' villa and meet both his American wife Lisa (Radha Mitchell) and his daughter Pita (Dakota Fanning).
Pita takes an instant shine to Creasy and while she's showing him around and introducing him to Bird - her last bodyguard's pet parrot and asking him what his favorite kind of music is (he says he doesn't know, but he is partial to Linda Ronstadt, as we find out later), Lisa says that she accepted Creasy because Pita likes him and that leads to her and Ramos making love.
Later that night, we see Creasy going over maps looking for the quickest route to and from school while Bird chatters away. After, we see him drinking deeply from his bottle of liquor and practicing gun drawing and catching the ejected bullet when he dry-fires, he misses each time. Elsewhere in the house, Lisa is tucking Pita in and Pita says that Creasy reminds her of a big bear (important).
The next day, Creasy is driving Pita to school and she keeps asking him questions, at one point asking how he feels about the fact that there have been twenty-four kidnappings in the past six days. He tries to ignore her and concentrate on driving, and eventually they get to Pita's catholic school. He signs her in and talks with one of the nuns, completing a biblical verse that's "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." He then names the verse from Romans in Spanish. Later, after picking up a Linda Ronstadt CD in the street market, Creasy picks Pita up. She keeps at him with the questions, and at an intersection he loses it and tells her to never ask him a question again. She says fine, and then she gets out of the car. He chases after her, but then she just gets in the backseat. He closes the door after her and gets back in the car.
That night, Creasy is in his room with the news on to this woman covering the kidnappings named Mariana (Rachel Ticotin) when Lisa comes in. She asks if he has children (no) and says that Pita told her what had happened that day. He says that his job is to guard Pita and that's what he's going to do. Lisa says that she'll be going with them tomorrow if that's all right with Creasy (ouch).
Later, he is drinking and drawing again, and at one point tries to kill himself but thankfully, the bullet doesn't work. He calls Rayburn, and Rayburn tells him that a bullet always tells the truth, meaning (I guess) that Creasy wasn't supposed to die then. He goes out walking in the rain, looks up at one point, and sees Pita looking down on him. The next morning, Bird is chattering again, and Creasy lets him go. Later, when he is driving to Pita's school, a station wagon with the plate "CGJ-289" pulls out and starts following them. Creasy asks Pita for a pencil and they both start getting the plate number when Creasy forgets to stop and another car almost hits them. The tail pulls away, and Creasy drives on.
That night, Creasy is in his room when he hears Pita calling him. She shows him that Bird is on his window and asks how he got out. Creasy says he let Bird go because he was annoying him. Pita laughs at that and goes to bed. The next day, after school, Pita is studying history and asks Creasy if he has a girlfriend, calling it Creasy history. Creasy calls it ancient history, but he smiles anyway. She also shows him how she got five of the six parts of the license plate number off of that car that was following them, which is a lot more than he got (zero).
The day after that, Ramos and Lisa are off on a trip. Pita asks if she can have a dog as they're leaving, but her parents just laugh. Later, Creasy is watching Pita at a swim team practice. She doesn't do that bad, but only comes in third place. Creasy walks over and says some stuff to her and then he pulls her out, fixing their friendship for good.
Now, to training. Creasy and Pita are at the Ramos' pool and Creasy is trying to psych her up (or out - I'm not sure which), saying that she is a prisoner of the starting block and the gunshot is what sets her free. Eventually, she gets a time for their pool of 10.9 seconds. She also gets a dog that she names Sam when her parents come back from vacation. A little while after that, the big swim meet comes and of course, Pita wins. At a celebratory lunch with special guests Rayburn and wife, she gives Creasy a gift - a necklace of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost souls. That night, Pita goes up to her dad while he's playing virtual golf and says that she doesn't want to play piano anymore, she just wants to swim. He tells her that this teacher is very famous and that it would be the best thing in the world if she got accepted at his school, and that he only wants what's best for her. She doesn't like this, but she hugs him anyway.
The next day, though, her attitude is completely different. She is complaining "loudly" to Creasy and Sam the dog that she wants him to break all her fingers. That way she wouldn't be able to play piano at all but she could still swim. He laughs and asks if she can burp. She does and he tells her to burp every few minutes while she's in there, but apologize right after every time. That way, she won't get kicked out, but she'll offend his sensibilities so much that she won't get in. She goes inside and Creasy walks around with Sam for a little bit, then puts him back in the car after he gets in trouble with some other dogs. Meanwhile, Creasy notices two police cars blocking the street at one end. Then, just as Pita comes out, he sees the car that was tailing them. He yells for Pita to get down just as the two cops open fire on him, along with a few other guys. Creasy ducks and takes out the cops. He tries to get the other guys, but one of them who he did shoot down pumps him full of bullets. Pita sees this and runs to Creasy,
who goes unconscious just after seeing Pita get picked up and kidnapped
A while after that, the chief of the Mexican Judicial Police is saying that this man, John W. Creasy (unconscious) is under arrest for the murder of two police officers. Mariana is there and she asks if the officers, who were off-duty at the time of the kidnapping, were known for being extraordinarily lucky, and a man next to her, Detective Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini), says that they were known for being corrupt members of La Hermanadad, "The Brotherhood," a group that watches over mobsters and crooked cops. Elsewhere, negotiations are in place for the return of Pita. Jordan and Ramos go to the drop with ten million and do what "The Voice" says, but a bunch of people intercept the drop and the money is stolen, which gets Pita killed.
During all this, Manzano and Rayburn moved Creasy out of the hospital and into this room in the city. One day, Creasy and Rayburn are finally leaving, and Creasy asks Rayburn to drive by the crime scene. They go and there is Mariana.
She tells Creasy if he needs help, she'll help, and he asks her, "Help me with what?" His next stop is a hanger of Rayburn's that has a bunch of weapons in it. He gets some and then he goes to the Ramos villa. He enters Pita's room and gets caught by Lisa. She asks what he's gonna do, and he says, "Anyone who planned it, anyone involved, anyone who profited in anyway from it - I'm gonna kill them." He also grabs the notebook with the partial license plate in it. He gives it to Mariana (the number) and she gives him ten matches, one of which is right. He goes to that car and gets in just as the driver does. He pulls a gun on the driver and they go to this cliff, where Creasy strips the guy naked and tapes his hands to the steering wheel. Creasy says that every time he doesn't answer truthfully and fully, he loses a finger. He then cuts off a finger anyway so the guy knows he isn't joking. After a couple more fingers have been lost, Creasy knows that they all work in separate cells of "La Hermanadad," and that they are told what to do via cell phone. He also finds out that they gave Pita to "The Guardians," who work at a nightclub and are led by Bruno the Butcher, a big guy with a scar on the left side of his face. Creasy thanks the man, gives him a cigarette, shoots him in the head, and sends the car over the cliff. Later, we see Manzano going over the debris and he picks up some paper Creasy left behind, indicating the driver as a member of "La Hermanadad.'
At the nightclub, Creasy finds Bruno and forces him upstairs. He, a man from Jersey, and a woman are all strung up by Creasy. Bruno gets killed, and Jersey starts sputtering about a cop who was trying to get some extra money, Fuentes a cop who was also working on getting Pita back. Creasy asks who gives the orders, but Jersey doesn't know and gets killed for it. The woman doesn't know either, but she says that if he lets her live she'll give him the girl. Creasy, startled, asks, "What girl?" It turns out not to be Pita, but Creasy takes the two woman out anyway after blowing up the club (bad gasoline storage). He then calls Mariana, has her take the girl and the woman somewhere, and asks her to find the cardholder on an ATM card he got from the guardians. After this is done, he's off to work again.
At some point in here, we see Manzano talking to Rayburn about Creasy. Rayburn says that the kidnappers stole the thing that showed Creasy it was okay to live again, and that every man is an artist, and that Creasy's heart is death, and at this moment, he's painting his masterpiece. As for Creasy himself, we see him setting up shop in some old couple's apartment with a rocket launcher. The man says that the Bible teaches forgiveness, but Creasy says, "Forgiveness is between them and god; it's my job to arrange the meeting." He then waits until he sees Fuentes car drive by, and then he shoots the jeep full of bad guys in front of it. He then rushes down, gets into Fuentes' car, throws him in the passenger seat, and drives to the spot of the drop point for the ransom. He strips off Fuentes' clothes (unseen) and informs him that he has inserted a C4 charge up his ass that is set to go off in five minutes (that's five of our minutes - real-time at work).
Fuentes says that the money was supposed to go to Ramos' lawyer. Creasy says that he's gotta get going and leaves with about ten seconds to spare before the charge blows.
Now Creasy is heading for Jordan's house. He gets there and is greeted by Jordan lying face down in his pool, dead. He goes inside and hears a fax machine start beeping. He puts in some paper and a fax comes through regarding deposits of two-point-five million to the accounts of Jordan and Samuel Ramos. Creasy calls Mariana on this and then splits for the Ramos pad. He confronts Lisa and Ramos and Ramos admits that he thought he could get their daughter back without having lost any money. Lisa storms out and tells Creasy that if he doesn't kill Ramos, then she will. Creasy looks at Ramos and tells him that a bullet always tells the truth. He says that once he tried to kill himself but the bullet didn't work. He then takes out the bullet from that night and gives both it and his gun to Ramos, saying that maybe they'll work for him. They do.
Next we see Manzano getting some information from his troops. They traced the ATM card and it belonged to a Rosalita Ramos Sanchez. They went in posing as asbestos investigators, bugged and wired the place, and stole a picture of the head kidnapper. Mariana gets a blow-up of the guys face, but the night before she can publish it, someone tells her that she'll be killed if it gets published. She calls Creasy, tells him that a picture of "The Voice" will be in tomorrow's newspaper, and gets killed the next night.
A couple of days after that, Creasy shows up at the Sanchez household and pretty much takes things over there, getting shot a time or two in the process. Eventually, though, he subdues the brother of "The Voice," Aurelio Sanchez (Gero Camilo), and learns from him and his wife that to contact brother Daniel, a.k.a. "The Voice," they page him and then he calls back on a cell phone. Creasy has them page Daniel (Gustavo Sánchez Parra), and when Daniel calls back, Creasy answers. Daniel offers to pay Creasy off, but Creasy isn't biting until Daniel offers payment of Pita!
Creasy doesn't believe it and demands a proof-of-life - the name of her teddy bear. Daniel asks Pita the name of the bear, and when she tells him, he calls back Creasy and says, "Creasy. She calls him Creasy Bear." They talk some more and arrange a meeting place for an exchange of a life for a life - Pita for Aurelio and Creasy to be killed in payment for Daniel's nephew, who was killed at the botched drop. Creasy calls Lisa and tells her that Pita's alive and gives her some instructions.
Two hours later, we see a car containing Lisa, Creasy, and Aurelio pull up by a highway bridge in the country. Creasy tells Lisa that she is to hold a shotgun to Aurelio's head and if it looks like anything goes wrong, she is to shoot him. Creasy gets out and starts walking up the bridge. On the other side are three cars - Daniel and the other kidnappers. Creasy reaches the high point of the bridge and the kidnappers see him. They let Pita go and she runs straight to him. Lisa, seeing her daughter released, in turn lets Aurelio go. Pita and Creasy hug on the bridge and he tells her that she's going home now. She asks where he's going and he says that he's going home too, home to Blue Bayou. They hug tightly and then let each other go, with Pita running and crying all the way to her mother. Creasy keeps on walking towards the kidnappers and gets in one of their cars. We see him holding the present he got from Pita so long ago, the necklace of St. Jude, as the sound fades out of the movie.
Suddenly, the fingers holding the necklace drop it and we see a caption: "John W. Creasy: Jan 21, 1956 - Dec 16, 2003." We then see a brief scene of Daniel falling backwards into his pool with bullet holes fired by Manzano into his chest. Another caption reads that Daniel was killed during the course of his arrest on Dec 16, 2003.