Detective Mike Breenan is a tough and crude, but decorated NYPD detective lieutenant with a dark side and ties to organized crime. He ends up killing a small-time Puerto Rican crook and threatens the witnesses to say it was self-defense. Young district attorney Al Reilly is sent to handle the case to get the inquiry behind the shooting. His case leads him to a crime boss, "Bobby Tex" Texador, whose wife is Nancy Bosch, the former lover of Reilly. The whole case leads to a violent strugge between the three men.
This Film contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Despite his bigotry, Mike gets along well with the police force, even cracking jokes with them and even is friendly with Al, before the latter gets too deep in the case.
- Alan Smithee: For Sidney Lumet, when the film was edited for content on TV. He was so unhappy with the broadcast version, he used the Alan Smithee name.
- Ambiguous Ending: After quitting the law firm, Reilly finds Nancy at the beach mourning Texador's death. He asks if they could have second chance at a relationship, but she says nothing as the film ends.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Mike succeeds in killing off Texador and his gang and while he dies himself, the incident gets hushed up and Quinn begins his campaign for mayor.
- Death by Irony: In the final confrontation with Nick and Reilly, Mike is shot dead by a virgin Jewish cop. Mike even lampshades this before dying.
- Downer Ending: Mike kills Texador and his gang before he gets killed himself, but the NYPD is hushing up the incident just to avoid the embarrassment for Quinn's mayoral campaign. Reilly threatens to go to the papers, but he can't because of information about his late father's sleazy activities would prevent his mother from getting the pension. A frustrated Reilly quits and goes off to find a mourning Nancy, asking if they could have a second chance at a relationship.
- Greater-Scope Villain: NYPD Head of the District Attorneys Homicide Bureau Kevin Quinn has Mike kill Texador and his gang so he can erase his past as he runs for mayor.
- Karma Houdini: Quinn successfully uses Mike to kill his former gang members and gets ready for his bid to run for mayor. Downplayed for Mike. Despite getting killed, the department is keeping his dealings quiet, so his name won't be soiled.
- Kill It with Fire: Mike kills Texador by lighting a leaky fuel to his boat, blowing him up.
- Mistaken for Racist: Why Nancy dumps Reilly, because when the latter meets the former's father, a black man, he had a look of surprise, which Nancy thinks is racism.
- The Pawn: Mike is ultimately this as he kills the Puerto Rican crook and the rest of Texador's gang because Quinn was a part of the gang and since he's running for office, wants to erase the past.
- Token Minority: The police force hasSam "Chappie" Chapman, who is the token black, while Luis Valentin is the token Hispanic.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Mike is a cop who's racist, homophobic and transphobic and is eager to kill if he has to.
- Villain with Good Publicity: Despite his bigotry and murders, Mike is one of NYPD's most decorated cops.
- The Whitest Black Guy: Mike frequently refers to Chappie as one, and in front of him, too.