Bob Lee Swagger (Ryan Phillippe) is badly wounded and being held by the Chechen sniper T. Solotov (Josh Stewart), who only needs Swagger alive long enough to tell him where he hid the bank ledger for Atlas, Solotov’s former employer. Meanwhile, Isaac Johnson (Omar Epps), who recently agreed to start working for Atlas, and Julie Swagger (Shantel VanSanten), who is just trying to save her husband, are on their tail. In Washington, D.C., FBI Agent Nadine Memphis (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) confronts Sen. Addison Hayes (Harry Hamlin) for his role in Atlas. In the desperate race to save Swagger, memories of the past and hints of the future indicate that there is more to Atlas than we know.
West Texas, 1988
Late at night, Sheriff Earl Swagger pulls up next to a barn and windmill and calls out for a man named Jimmy Poole, who has escaped from prison. Earl tries to convince Jimmy to drop his weapon, but he opens fire. Earl is hit before Jimmy falls. Earl makes it to his car to radio in for help. But before he can give his position, he’s felled with a shot to the heart.
‘If it ain’t loaded, it ain’t lethal’
Bob Lee Swagger wakes up in Solotov’s car and promptly jumps out of the moving vehicle. He’s badly wounded and handcuffed, but he stumbles over uneven ground, ripping the staples from his side until he collapses. Solotov finds him easily. Swagger explains that with his staples out he figures he has 20 minutes until he bleeds out, and they’re nowhere near a hospital so Solotov isn’t getting the ledger. Solotov knocks him out and takes him to a nearby veterinarian. As he fades in and out of consciousness, Bob Lee remembers the day his father died. They went hunting and his dad stressed the importance of not racking a bullet until he had the shot, making him repeat “if it ain’t loaded, it ain’t lethal.” They were interrupted when now-Sheriff Brown told them about Jimmy’s escape. Swagger wakes up on the veterinarian’s table. The vet distracts Solotov and tries to run, giving Swagger a chance to put a horseshoe under the car tire. The vet doesn’t get far before Solotov cuts him down. To convince Swagger to give him the ledger, Solotov sets up on sheriff’s deputies and prepares to take aim. Swagger finally agrees, to ensure no one else gets hurt.
Memphis confronts Hayes about Atlas
In his office, Nadine Memphis confronts Sen. Hayes about running Atlas, which he flatly denies before leveling veiled threats. Later, Memphis meets up with Hayes’ aide and her ex Harris Downey (Jesse Bradford), who confirms Hayes called Patricia Gregson (Beverly D’Angelo), the deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, after she left. Memphis takes Harris to see Jeffrey Denning but they find him hanging in his apartment. Harris finally believes his boss is what Memphis says he is.
On the trail, under fire
Isaac Johnson and Julie Swagger toss Solotov’s hotel room and find GPS coordinates, which led them to an empty house and an ambush. They take out the handful of Atlas guns waiting for them. Later, Johnson gets a call from Hayes, telling him where Solotov is headed.
Swagger tries to protect innocent people as the past keeps rushing back
Swagger remembers his parents fighting the day his dad died, with his mom not wanting his dad to go after the escaped con on his day off. But Earl insisted he had to because it was Jimmy. Out on the road, Solotov and Swagger encounter a roadblock. Solotov speeds up to blast through it, betting that the deputies won’t fire with Swagger in the car beside him. Swagger tries to stop Solotov, but he opens fire and they speed around. Fading in and out, Swagger remembers his father talking to Jimmy’s wife, who relays a message that it’s a big misunderstanding and Jimmy wants to talk to him by the windmill. Out on the road, Solotov’s car sputters to a stop. Swagger intervenes to keep Solotov from killing a man in a pick-up who stops. When they reach the campground where the ledger is buried, Solotov again warns Swagger that if he doesn’t get the ledger, Julie and Mary die. As they walk the few miles to the buried book, Solotov claims that he and Swagger have a common aim of wanting to destroy Atlas. When Swagger says he doesn’t care about Atlas, Solotov brings up Earl Swagger’s death, and the fact he wasn’t alone when he died. We flash back to what turns out to be another of Bob Lee’s memories from that day – from the back of his dad’s patrol car, where he stowed away to be near his dad. Bob Lee saw his father murdered.
Memphis ratchets up the pressure on Hayes
Memphis confronts Hayes at a hotel where he’s waiting for his mistress. Harris watches as Memphis taunts his boss with the news that the ledger is missing and he’s broke. Hayes remains calm, but does manage to fire Harris. As he waits for his car later, Hayes tells a mysterious man the mission is still a go.
‘Psy Ops’ or kernels of conspiracy truth?
Solotov tells Bob Lee that the Swaggers and Atlas have been mixed up since the beginning, and it wasn’t luck that Johnson framed him. Johnson and Julie arrive at the campsite parking lot as Swagger and Solotov reach the ledger. Swagger warns Solotov that it’s booby trapped, but Solotov doesn’t buy it and starts digging. He finds the ledger buried with a gun. He takes both out and raises the gun to shoot Swagger. But Swagger is ready. He breaks out of his zip tie and charges Solotov, who squeezes the trigger, only to find it wasn’t loaded. Swagger goes for Solotov’s broken wrist and the two fight for their lives until Swagger finally gets the upper hand by cracking Solotov’s head on a rock. With Solotov beaten, Swagger picks up Solotov’s gun and says of his own, “if it ain’t loaded, it ain’t lethal.” Then he pulls the trigger on Solotov’s, which most certainly is, and finally finishes off the Chechen sniper. As he fades out in the desert sun, Swagger remembers Sheriff Brown being there after his father was killed. He got Bob Lee out of the car and told him that no good could ever come of anyone knowing he was there that night. Julie and Johnson wake Swagger. Johnson takes the ledger, promising he’s going to go finish things.
Johnson decides ‘This is who I am now’
More than a week later, Hayes is surprised but pleased to find Johnson waiting for him in his hotel room after making his way across the country undetected. Hayes likes that Johnson told Swagger his family is safe as long as he forgets about the ledger. “It actually serves my purpose to let him think we have a deal,” Hayes says, as he pours himself a Scotch. When Johnson asks about his plans for Memphis, Hayes says he’s having her and Gregson investigated. He reaches for the ledger but Johnson holds onto it. Then Hayes starts to get woozy. Memphis walks out. Hayes starts sputtering. Memphis explains to Hayes that he’s having a heart attack. He falls to the floor, telling them “this changes nothing.” As Hayes dies, Johnson announces to Memphis: “This is who I am now. Are you sure you want to go down this road?” Memphis says she used to believe in the rule of law, but she sees that laws won’t stop Atlas. “I quit the FBI this morning,” she says. “Time to start my new job.”
The mission – whatever it may be – is still a go
In a small basement apartment filled with computer screens, “The Jackal” sits down and sees the news about Hayes’ death. He opens a locked case and makes a secure call, giving a code and asking how to proceed. He answers: “Yes, but I’ll still need the card.”