McDormand plays Ingrid Jessner, an American human rights activist whose colleague Paul Sullivan (Brad Dourif) is killed while investigating allegations of criminal acts by the British government in Northern Ireland, such as the murder and torture of IRA suspects. While in the company of an IRA sympathizer who claims to have knowledge of doings even shadier than this, both are shot to death by masked gunmen. In the aftermath, police claim they ran a barricade and were lawfully fired upon. Inspector Peter Kerrigan (Cox) is sent in from England to investigate, as it's felt the locals are too compromised. A tape recording is discovered that reveals a conspiracy at the highest levels of the British government...
This film provides examples of:
- Downer Ending: Kerrigan is blackmailed into silence and Harris, the man who supplied the tape, has been murdered thus he's unable to authenticate it. The conspirators get away with everything, in short.
- Government Conspiracy: First with the cover-up of Sullivan's murder, which itself was to cover-up an ever larger conspiracy inside of the British government.
- Mysterious Informant: Captain Harris, who claims to have been with British military intelligence and have information in the form of a tape recording that shows a conspiracy high in the government.
- Writer on Board: The film is pretty obviously a Take That! against the government of Margaret Thatcher, going much further than most. The plot involves a conspiracy where she, with the aid of factions within big business and the military, used black propaganda to discredit Conservative Party leader Edward Heath so she could replace him in 1975. After this she was successfully elected Prime Minister, taking hard-line measures to fight their foes: the labor unions and IRA.