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The film opens with a close-up of Jack Nicholson standing on a barren, rocky ground with an old wood wall behind him. He's muttering something to himself.

We then quickly cut to a scene of a frozen lake with an ice-fishing hut in the middle of it. Inside the hut, we see Nicholson fishing. He packs his fish up, drives into town and walks into the police department where he works. We find out he's retiring. It's obvious from his look and attitude that he's not looking forward to retirement.

A bit later, he goes to a restaurant where they are giving him a retirement party. At the same time, the party is going on, the film cuts back and forth to a scene of a young boy on a snowmobile getting stuck in the snow. When the kid is trying to find a way out he sees an Indian running through the snow to his truck. The boy is curious about why the Indian is running so he follows the Indian's trail back to the dead body of a young girl.

Back at the party, the police chief and the man replacing Nicholson, get called to the case. Nicholson, with only 6 hours before he's officially retires, goes along as well.

As the crime scene is being wrapped up, Nicholson and his replacement, discover that the parents of the girl have not been informed. Nicholson goes to the parents house and tells them the horrible news. The mother makes Nicholson pledge on a cross that her daughter had made, that he will find the killer. They find the running indian and learn that he is retarded. Nicholson's replacement convinces the indian to confess to the girls murder. As the Indian is being led away he grabs the gun of one of the officers escorting him and kills himself.

Nicholson does not believe that the Indian was the perpetrator of the crime. Although he's retired, he investigates the crime. The murdered girl occasionally would go to her grandmother's house for piano lessons. When he gets to the city where the grandmother lives he stops at a store selling candy and ice cream and asks for directions. The man and his daughter running the store tell him the Grandmother lives around the block in the apartment above the stores. The grandmother describes how she gave the lessons to the girl and that afterwards the girl would often go up to the candy store.

Nicholson also goes to her grade school and talks to one of her friends. The girl's friend tells Nicholson that the murdered girl had recently met someone she called "The Porcupine Giant." She had even drawn a picture of him which Nicholson takes from the school. The picture shows the girl standing next to the Giant and he is handing her something. It also shows that he drives a black SUV.

In his investigations, he found that 8 years earlier, another young girl had been killed and 3 years ago another disappeared. The 3 girls all were blonde, all were about 8 years old and all were wearing red when they were killed or disappeared. He takes this information to his former police chief and they tell him it doesn't mean anything, that the indian killed her.

Nicholson goes to a fishing resort in the general area where the killings took place. After being there a couple days, he stops at a rundown gas station and offers to buy the station. Harry Dean Stanton is the owner and at first doesn't want to sell but changes his mind and lets Nicholson buy it.

Nicholson is going to work the gas station until the black SUV shows up. During his time there, he eats at a small tavern and becomes friends with the head waitress, Robin Wright-Penn and her blond haired 8 year old daughter.

One day, they go to a swap meet, looking for furniture for Nicholson's house (attached to the gas station). While they're looking, the daughter wanders off but they eventually find her safe, except... one of the sellers at the meet, has given her a toy porcupine!

Turns out that the porcupine had been made by a single man who lives with his mother and who is extremely religious. Of course Nicholson is suspicious. One night when Nicholson is at his house he hears banging at his door. It's Robin; her ex-husband has just beaten her. Nicholson suggests that she and her daughter move into his house since it's so large and there is room for all of them. Nicholson really cares for the little girl, reading her bedtime stories, buys toys and just really seems to be a perfect father type. Eventually this kindness to the daughter wins Robin over and Jack and Robin make love.

Twice, Jack has seen the man that makes the porcupines talking to the daughter and he's extremely worried and suspicious. One day he comes home and Robin tells him that her daughter and this man have gone to church together where the man is a minister. Nicholson is frantic, jumps in his car and drives like crazy, heading towards the church imagining a violent death of the girl. But, when he gets to church he discovers that it is really a church service and the minister is really only interested in the young girl as a member of the congregation.

Nicholson wants to catch the murderer so badly that he even permits Robin's daughter to wear red. He also tells the daughter to let him know if a man ever approaches her. One night the daughter tells him that she has met "the Wizard" and that the wizard has given her some porcupines.

Turns out that the porcupines are actually chocolate candies, made to look like porcupines. The daughter says that she is going to meet the man tomorrow in the park and wants to know if its OK. Nicholson says yes but don't tell your mother.

The next day we see the girl at the park and Nicholson is watching her but along with Nicholson is the man who replaced him in the police department and several members of the SWAT team.

The girl had ridden to the park on her bike and doesn't know she's being closely watched by the police. The police are getting tired of waiting and Nicholson thinks the police are deployed in the wrong positions. As this is happening, we find out who the murder is…

We cut back to the candy store where Nicholson asked for directions earlier in the film. The girl running the store is calling for her father but he's not there. We cut to the owner driving his black SUV down the road as a logging truck approaches. Back at the store, his daughter finally finds what she's looking for… candy in the shape of porcupines.

The police decide they have waited long enough and decide to leave. They stop by and tell Robin Wright-Penn that her daughter is at the park and that Nicholson is waiting for a murderer that they don't think exists. They are warning her that they think Nicholson is kind of losing it and that she should be careful of Nicholson using her daughter as a pawn.

Robin gets into her car and drives like crazy to the very wooded park and confronts Nicholson. She is screaming at him, telling him he's crazy and he's been using them and orders her daughter to get into the car. The daughter says but "I want my bike" Robin says to just get into the car. The girl walks down the wooded path towards the car and out of sight. Nicholson keeps telling Robin that the murderer is going to come but she is still furious at him for having used them and walks off following the path her daughter took.

We next see the police in their car heading back to the city. As they're driving along, they pass a wreck between a logging truck and a black SUV. The SUV is burning and we see a close-up of the half charred remains of the murderer inside. As the police drive by, looking at but really ignoring the accident, the head officer comments that once Nicholson was a brilliant policeman but now he drinks too much and is unstable.

We cut back to the scene in the beginning of the film. We now realize that he is standing in front of his closed, run down gas station and is drinking. Nearby is Robin's daughter's now rusted bike.

His life has been destroyed by this twist of fate but he was right all along. Robin had left town, his old coworkers think he's nuts and that the Indian was still the murderer and nobody ever made the connection that the dead man in the black SUV was the murderer.

We realize that Nicholson is muttering… "he was going to come"

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Jack will eventually use Robin Wright-Penn's daughter as a pawn to catch the murderer. (Well... try to catch him)
Even though he was right all along about catching the murderer, nobody will know it. He will end up being thought of as just a crazy old man.
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